The youth ministry is an integral part of the church body and young people are known, valued and supported by all.
[Christ] makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4:16)
When I accepted a call to work with young people in my first church, they had been without a paid youth pastor for quite some time. The ministry had been held together by a team of young adult and adult volunteers. When I arrived all but one, an eighteen-year-old, resigned. Yes, they were all tired but at least part of their thinking was, “Let’s leave it now to the paid professional!”
A healthy and effective youth ministry is one in which leadership is simply delegated and left to the youth pastor or youth leaders to do alone. Churches who see youth ministry this way subconsciously think of it as something that happens outside of its central life and consequently lose touch or even lose interest in what’s happening.
Instead, youth ministry is the responsibility of the whole church, who sees it as an integral part of the church body – not simply an add-on or a separate “church within a church”.
Young people are not simply “the church of tomorrow” – they are the church of today! When people grasp this, it affects the way they see and treat young people.
It would be naïve for youth leaders to simply hope that the church would see the youth ministry and the young people this way and then apportion blame when it doesn’t. Instead, they need to actively pursue this goal by doing two things: informing and connecting.
The saying, “out of sight, out of mind” can easily apply to youth ministry in many churches. The young people usually meet at a time separate from Sunday morning, and away from adults in the church. For a variety of reasons, most youth groups have a significant number of young people who do not attend on Sunday morning. As such, few people in the church know who is part of the youth group and what is happening, and so it is your responsibility to inform and to get the word out.
There are plenty of ways to do this and the more you employ, the more successful you will be. Perhaps the best way is through announcements in church, with the young people themselves describing what they’re planning, what they’ve been doing, and (best of all) what God has been doing in their lives.
In one church I attended we would invite young people to the front after every camp we ran. A microphone would be passed along and those brave enough would share some highlights.
At the same time we would show some photos and as time went on one of our young people, who was skilled in editing video, would compile a presentation giving everyone some idea of what had taken place: a picture is worth a thousand words!
More than ever today, there are other ways to keep the church informed about what is happening. Updates from the front and in the church newsletter can now be supplemented through social media posts that include photos and videos.
Church leaders especially need to be informed. Provide them with monthly reports (whether they ask you to or not) and take whatever opportunities you can get, to report in person at elders’ meetings. If you have a senior pastor, make a special effort to keep them informed about your encouragements and concerns.
Finally, take what opportunities you get in informal conversations to keep church members informed. When they ask, “How’s the youth group going?”, don’t allow modesty to stop you from talking up successes. Give God the glory by sharing what He is doing collectively and in the lives of individual young people.
A second strategy in making the youth ministry an integral part of church life is to connect members of the wider church with individual young people. A good start is to invite them to join you at some of your events or programmes.
Our annual church quiz night run by the young people was always a great way for connection to happen. We would deliberately mix the groups that were seated around tables so that they would include both young people and adults and questions were prepared that took advantage of the knowledge of both groups. There was always lots of competitive fun and laughter. I recall one year overhearing an older person talking about it after church the next day, telling someone about the young person she had got to know. That alone made the night worthwhile for me!
Once you have begun to establish a connection through fun events, plan something that enables young people and adults to go deeper. You might invite a panel of older people to come and answer young people’s questions or to share what Jesus means to them. Try inviting one or two adults into your small groups for one or more weeks and prepare questions that will allow both young and not-so-young to contribute different perspectives for their mutual benefit.
Connections grow deeper over time so look for ways to move beyond one-off activities to regular interaction. Encourage church members to sign up as prayer partners for young people or facilitate mentoring relationships built around the sharing of skills and conversations about life.
One Sunday morning I asked the congregation if any of them had specific skills they would be willing to pass on to small groups of interested young people. A man in his mid-seventies approached me a week later saying he’d had a great idea. He had shared it with his wife who, to their mutual surprise, had been thinking the same thing.
His idea was to meet with a group of boys whom he would teach to use power tools as they built a shed in his backyard. Before long he had four boys in their teens working with him and talking about life. Several weeks later this man approached me with a look of great excitement. One of the boys had asked him to be in the baptism pool with him at his baptism in a few weeks. What a connection!
Finally, in your efforts to connect, concentrate especially upon those in church leadership. Yes, they are undoubtedly busy, but most will have a desire to invest at least some time in young people. As these church leaders get to know the young people, their presence and their interest will let teens know that they are valued and loved by the whole church.
CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS THAT A YOUTH MINISTRY IS SEEN AS PART OF THE CHURCH BODY
- Through regular announcements in church, people know what is happening in the youth ministry.
- Young people are seen sharing and participating in church services.
- Youth ministry news features in the church newsletter and social media accounts.
- Church leaders are informed and up to date with what is happening in the youth ministry.
- Church leaders are making an effort to get to know the young people by name.
- Church members are responding to invitations from the youth ministry to attend events that see them interacting and having fun together.
- Church members participate in regular one-off youth events that provide them with the opportunity to share something of themselves and what they believe.
- Older people in the church are praying for individual young people and their needs.
- Older people in the church are mentoring at least some of our young people on an ongoing basis.
- The wider church regularly gives thanks to God in its services for what He is doing in the lives of the young people.
CCCNZ Youth offers a coaching programme for key youth leaders and youth pastors who would like help in implementing these principles as well as learning leadership skills. Contact us if you are interested.