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The Youth Ministry Side View Mirror: 14 Things Students Wish They Told Their Youth Pastor

Reflection about past youth ministries is an invaluable exercise, especially when you include former and favorite and not so favorite students.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask former students (that were somewhat apart of our youth group) what they really thought about the youth ministry you lead?

I think it is fascinating to get a sideways perspective from former students since they heard all the talks, played all the games, experienced all the small groups, broke bread, got baptized, went to all the camps, and participated in all the service projects.

How could our former students help correct the way we did youth ministry?  Should their thoughts even be considered?

When asking former students about their youth ministry experience, there are two reminders that will immediately pop up in your youth ministry brain.

Their answers will:

–  Reinforce the idea you still don’t have a clue – In fact it may be really humbling knowing the real truth about what they thought about the youth ministry department and their youth pastor post high school.  It is amazing what they can learn and experience once they leave youth group.  You may be surprised or comforted by their responses.  The more and more years I am in youth ministry, the more and more I realize I don’t know, especially when you talk to former students about their church experience and realize the many complexities to youth ministry.  Polling our past students keeps us (youth pastors) in check– knowing that we always didn’t do a great job reaching out to students.

–  Give perspective – Asking former students will give you insight on God’s sovereignty and a sideways angle on what really is happening in your youth ministry.  Seriously God is in control of these kids lives.  Our youth ministries will be in a teens life only for a season.  It can be really exciting and disheartening talking to some of our former students post youth group for a variety of reasons, but I have been reminded that these students are God’s children.  And we were called to just keep bringing them back to Jesus and for them to receive the touch of Jesus.  Some youth ministries are going to lose kids and others will get kids to keep their faith but no matter what your students are going to be okay.  Former students have the ability to speak to the reality of what really can improve in youth group since they saw and heard it all.  Know that our former students have our back and they want to look out for us by speaking to the areas of our youth ministry we cannot see. They have knowledge we cannot get from anybody else besides them!  So tap into them as a valuable resource.

So…… I decided to run a little experiment.  I decided to ask two of my former students what are some things they wished they told their youth pastor.  I gave parameters that stated:  either tell me directly or generalize basic points youth pastors across the nation need to hear.

So I went to the land of milk and honey aka facebook and reconnected with two former students– Chase and Andrew. I asked them this question:  What do you wish youth pastors knew about their students?

Their answers:


Student #1:  Chase

I imagine as a youth pastor it is hard to figure out what works and what doesn’t. What to incorporate into your youth group and what to leave out. Mainly because students often don’t offer a lot of feedback.  Below are a couple of things I (Chase) wish I could tell every youth pastor:

(1) Communication – Those random text messages throughout the week make ahuge impact. From following up with a prayer request or just checking in to seehow the week was going; Facebook or text messages are always a highlight.
(2)  Game Nights – Sometimes its fun to come to youth group and just play games all night. It helps us become better friends with everyone in the group because a strong community is so important in a youth group. The games don’t have to be complex; games like Mafia, Catchphrase and Telephone can be used whether you have a large or small youth group.
(3) Guest Speakers – Guest Speakers are quite possibly the greatest thing ever. Sure I really like youth pastor teaching every week, but its fun to have someone from outside the group teach every once in awhile. Maybe you and a fellow youth pastor in your community agree to guest speak at each other’s youth group.  Another idea is to ask one of your volunteers to speak one night.
(4) Studying a book of the bible – Remember that time we spent 3-4 months studying a single book of the bible? I sure do and I learned the most during thosefew months. The Trick – using examples around your community to illustrate what’s happening in the book. Studying a single book of the bible is something that is often overlooked, but is beneficial in so many ways. From gaining insight about a specific book, to teaching students how to study the bible, its not something you want to skip.
(5) Books and Resources – Materials that are available each week would make a huge difference. From how to study the bible to handouts that allow studentsto dive deeper on the message from that past week, its always nice to have resources available.
(6) Theology and Deep Topics – If you want to create a youth group that is engaging then start teaching topics that will force us to start asking questions.  Some ideas would be the Trinity, Free will vs Predestination and Heaven and Hell. These might be tough topics to teach but students will be engaged and start to ask questions which will help them grow in their faith. I remember the first timeI learned about the Trinity and my mind was spinning with so many questions – it was awesome.

These are just a few things that I wish I could tell every youth pastor. I think that each element plays an important role in creating a learning atmosphere that will allow your youth group to thrive and make a difference in both your community and around the world.

Chase is a student from Orange County, CA. He loves to surf, Tweets Occasionally and is addicted to photography.


Student #2:  Andrew

(7) You’re not better than these teenagers. Most of them probably aren’t going to listen to a thing you say unless you respect them.
(8) Politics don’t matter. Your youth group isn’t your opportunity to sway young people to one side. If it gets brought up, you can talk about it, but only from an objective point of view.
(9) These kids are going to be at an age (if not already) where they want to experiment with drugs and alcohol. You can’t tell them not to. You can only be there for them. Open yourselves up to them. Being a youth pastor is a 24/7 job, not just wednesday nights and sunday mornings.
(10) Let the kids have a say. The best thing I ever got out of my time in youth group was the ability to lead.  We didn’t just attend youth group, we were youth group. Encourage the kids to come to you with anything they want to do.  Basically, let the kids be creative, but don’t force it. For example:  a great example is Rocketown. Rocketown is a non-profit in Nashville that serves as a venue for punk, pop-punk, hardcore, metal, and other “sub-standard” genres to perform where they normally wouldn’t get a gig in Nashville. They also have a skate park and skate shop that is open to all ages. Most of all, they run youth group programs for teens. Every Tuesday is “Skate Church”, a Bible study that takes place in the skate park. Look them up, it’s quite the place.
(11) You will lose kids. Some kids grow up to realize that they just don’t believe in everything you’ve been teaching them. You can’t force it into them. You can do your best to help them grow in their faith, but at least when they leave, you know that you helped them through the most painfully awkward years of their lives. Be there. Be the cool uncle. The one that picked them up when they were down and didn’t want anyone else to know. Be the one who writes letters of recommendation when they go to college. Foster friendships among them.  Be forgiving and understanding. Also be firm.
(12)  Forget about numbers. As long as you have kids showing up, you have a youth group.
(13) Scripture doesn’t mean much to all teens, so use it wisely.  The last thing the world needs is Bible-beaters who can’t see outside the text and outside of their current context.
(14)  Be on fire for God, but don’t go starting fires for God. Some people feel it’s necessary to constantly shout to the world that they love Jesus. The only people that ever listen to those people already love Jesus.


Well there you have it– 2 really great perspectives from two former students.  Pretty cool feedback huh?

All I am saying is that every few years it may be smart to check in with your former students on the pros and cons about their youth ministry experience.  It is to easy to go on autopilot and do the same youth ministry things year after year.  I think we sometimes focus on the techniques of youth ministry rather than the actual teens in our youth ministry.  It is totally worth it to re-connect with former students.  Former students will help give youth pastors a sideways view on what really needed to happen in youth group.

Comfort Challenge:
So contact former students, get their feeedback, and know your youth ministry blindspots.

The Question And Action:

If I was going to hunt down a few of your old students and ask them: what is 1 thing you wish you told your youth pastor, what would they say?

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Jeremy Zach easily gets dissatisfied with status quo. He reeks with passion and boredom is not in his vocabulary. He becomes wide awake when connecting with student pastors, thinking and writing about student ministry, experimenting with online technology, and working out. He is married to Mikaela and has two calico cats, Stella and Laguna. He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and is a XP3 Orange Specialist for Orange—a division of the REthink Group. Zach holds a Communication degree from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities and Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.