Poll Question 1: How large is your youth group?

As one of the contributors to YouthMin.org, I know that the heartbeat of this ministry is to encourage, challenge, and equip Youth Ministers and leaders to do more effective ministry.  We believe that Youth Ministry is the “front line” of the battle, and we value you and your ministry.  We want to make sure that we are providing meaningful, helpful, and insightful articles and resources to speak into your ministry in your context.  To accomplish that, we want to get to know you more.  With that focus, we are going to start offering interactive poll questions regularly on the site so that we can get to know you and your ministry context better.  Our hope is that these questions will give us a better picture of who you are, the audience with which we are trying to connect.  So thanks for reading YouthMin.org and being a part of this community.  Keep up the great work for the Kingdom!  You rock!

QUESTION 1: How large is your youth ministry?

We know that different sizes of ministry require different leadership styles, different time management, and even different obstacles.  So when we ask “how large is your youth ministry,” we think it can help us know your context a bit more.  This isn’t to compare, to envy, or to brag, but simply for reference.  When you answer, be honest about the AVERAGE size of your ministry gatherings (middle school + high school).  We don’t want the number of students on your mailing list, or how many came to a lock-in that one time.  We also don’t want to know the lowest attendance you’ve ever had.  We want to know, on AVERAGE, how many students attend your ministry each week.

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Youth Ministry Game – Schism

Schism is a great Youth Ministry game for groups of at least 8. What is awesome about it is that even the students who prefer to just sit to the side and not participate in active games can have fun with this game, because its not as much about athletic ability as it is about team work.

Schism is typically played on a volleyball court with a normal volleyball net and boundaries, but you can really make your own boundaries big enough for your group to play in, and screen flex wall dividers (we know almost every church as at least one of these things) work great to be the middle barrier as well (not just for this game, great for battleship, too). Two volleyballs are used (for groups larger than 30 add an extra ball). The balls are thrown and caught (not hit as in volleyball). If a player tries to catch a ball but drops it, that person is out of the game. If a ball hits the ground, the person closest to where the ball landed is out (if an argument breaks out about who is out, both people arguing are out). If two balls land, the two closest people to where the balls landed are out. Players can catch one ball, and still be called out by the second ball hitting them or landing closest to them. This is where a team must work together to help each other, because the opposing team will try to throw both balls at the same person. If a player throws a ball and it does not make it over the net or lands out of bounds, that player is out. Players must throw the ball from the spot they caught it. No spiking or throwing in a downward direction.

A “schism” occurs when a team throws both of the balls and the balls collide in the air. If a team throws a schism, and both balls score kills on the other team’s side, this is called an “ultimate schism.” An ultimate schism results in two players being out on the side the balls landed, and the throwing team gets to bring back one player. Players must not hold a ball for long, and both balls must remain in play. The only exception is when one team is down to two players; then they can set one ball down and not use it. Play continues until all players on one side are out. Switch sides and reload and play again.

Is Youth Ministry Killing the Church?

It seems about this time every year, I begin to see a lot of blog posts about how Youth Ministry is killing the church, how Youth Ministry is fundamentally flawed, and how students are leaving the church in record numbers.  Youth Ministry is always the scapegoat in this conversation, the sacrificial lamb to blame for all of the woes plaguing the church.

I will be frank and tell you that this trend of blaming Youth Ministry for the mass exodus of young people from the faith is honking me off.  While I see the trend, and am disheartened whenever I see one of my former students straying from the faith, I am not convinced that Youth Ministry is the root cause for the decline.  I’d like to offer some rebuttals to the idea that Youth Ministry is the root of all evil, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Here are some questions I think need to be asked.

1.  What would the statistics be WITHOUT Youth Ministry?

While studies like Sticky Faith and Barna continue to show the alarming trend of students leaving the church, I wonder if those numbers would be exponentially worse without Youth Ministry in the mix.  If you follow the same logic many do when it comes to Youth Ministry, you could have some interesting conclusions.  For instance, people are dying of obesity-related illnesses in large quantities.  Clearly, doctors are killing America.  We should get rid of doctors and start over.  You see the absurdity of such logic, as it doesn’t really get to the root cause of the issue at hand.  I argue that Youth Ministry is not the root cause of students leaving the church.  It may simply be a symptom of the greater disease.  I contend there are other factors.

2.  What about the culture around us?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this isn’t 1950 anymore.  Wally and the Beav are long gone.  Shows like Dick Van Dyke and My Three Sons have been replaced with the Real Housewives and Modern Family.  But the list of cultural changes isn’t limited to our entertainment.  Absentee fathers, single parenting, gay marriage, and a plethora of other “hot button issues” are waging war on our students.  Many well-respected pastors, researchers, and social commentators have even called this a “post-Christian society.”  Are we so naive to think that these other factors don’t contribute to the droves of students leaving our churches?

We aren’t living in an age where families just “attend church together” every Sunday as part of their normal family tradition.  There isn’t a standard expectation in our society to attend church.  Many of the students in our ministry at Hazelwood come to church without their parents.  A number of them have no positive spiritual influence to speak of outside of youth group.  To assume that Youth Ministry is somehow the reason these students don’t “stick with it” is to miss a lot of other contributing factors altogether.

3.  What about all the success stories?

I’ve seen too many amazing spiritual transformations in Youth Ministry to believe it is beyond repair or without merit.  Each year, we watch about 15-20 students give their lives to Christ and follow Him in Christian baptism.  Many of these students, as I mentioned earlier, have no real spiritual connection outside of our Youth Ministry.  I’ve seen students answer the call of God and follow Him into full-time ministry.  Many students from our church are currently serving in other ministries around the country and even around the world.  Through our ministry, students have had opportunities to serve on mission fields in various states, countries, and places of need.  In Youth Ministry, students meet every week to encourage, pray for, and laugh with one another in Christian community.  How can we throw out the baby with the bath water here?

Five years ago, a young lady went on a trip with us for the first time.  She met Jesus there, and her life was never the same.  I watched her pursue Christ faithfully despite adverse conditions spiritually in her home, and financial difficulty at every turn.  Our Youth Ministry often helped pay for her registrations so that she could continue to go with us and grow in Christ.  This past year, she came into my office with a smile on her face.  She had a job her senior year, and had saved her money so she could pay for her own way on our Adventure Trip.  She walked into my office, and gave me THREE stacks of cash.  The first was for her trip.  The second was for her sibling.  And the third was to pay for another student who couldn’t afford to go.  Youth Ministry isn’t completely broken.

4.  Isn’t there another solution?

One of my biggest complaints about most of the “Youth Ministry Stinks” articles is that they rarely offer solutions.  While I don’t think Youth Ministry is to blame for our loss of students entirely, I do think we need to make strides forward, and take Youth Ministry to the next level.  This is where I appreciate solutions-based research like Sticky Faith.  It gives tangible, proven ideas that I can implement in my ministry in the hopes of hanging on to more students in the future.

By connecting our students to the larger body, giving students opportunities to wrestle with questions of faith, and more effectively partnering with parents in ministry, we can make Youth Ministry even more productive in the future, and hopefully watch more students remain faithful after high school.

Is Youth Ministry responsible for the exodus of students from the church?  I’m not so sure.  Can it be better and more effective?  Absolutely.  And that, my friends, is something I think we can ALL agree on.  So let’s get out there and change the world…one student at a time.

Career vs. Calling: Making It Clear

We just wrapped up our Roundtable Tuesday and had a great discussion on Youth Ministry and the differences between Career and Calling. I wanted to follow up and write a little more about what I believe.

Calling

I truly believe that all Christ-followers are called into ministry. When you follow Christ he calls you to minister to the people around you, starting with your family, your work, your school, your city, your state, then to the nations! We see this in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

God calls us all to minister once we follow Christ; I think through prayer and growth in your relationship with Jesus He gives you a more specific calling or a heart for a certain group of people. For some that calling/heart is for teens, children, adults, a different nation, and so forth.

As for making your calling a career, that is between you and God. Benjamin Graham Read said it best the other day at the Roundtable that (and I paraphrase),

“Some youth pastors would make great volunteers in a Youth Ministry, but the things a Youth Pastor is called to do require more commitment and sacrifice than they are willing to make. ” (Roundtable #16)

Career 

I believe that if your calling is to be translated vocationally in a church somewhere, that God will open those doors for you and give you the tools to do so.  Yet, ultimately, I believe that God has called you to minister to a certain group, and that no matter what you do for your “career,” you should use your “calling” to impact the group you are called to minister to where you are!

At the Roundtable, I stated, “If God lead me to some other job/career that took me out of youth ministry, I would still pour into the teens wherever I was.”

Just serve where you are, and follow God faithfully day to day and remember that “…I am with you always, to the end of age.” (Matthew 28:20)

 

What are your thoughts? Did this post help you? Leave us a comment below and let us know.

The Value of Student Activities in Youth Ministry

One of the frustrations that I hear many youth ministers talk about is the fact that their students seem more concerned with extracurriculars than they are youth group or church.

I hear things like:

  • They don’t value God or the church because they miss youth group.
  • They think football is more important on a Friday night than a youth event.
  • They can’t give Jesus just 90 minutes of their time a week.

And I hear you, friends.  I’ve felt like you, and I mean, I still get frustrated.  But I’m a little more empathetic to the students, and here’s why.

Going to youth group doesn’t produce a college scholarship.

That’s blunt, I know.  Yet, with the costs of college, teenagers are trying to do whatever it takes to help pay for it.

Now, there are things that you can do as a youth pastor to help this out:

  • Provide missions opportunities to help them gain community service/volunteer work to put on their resumes. Bonus: make it open to the community of high schoolers and not just your church teens (can you say outreach?).
  • Find a way to have more student leadership positions, so that your students can put that on their resume.
  • Find people within the church who can invest scholarships into some of your teenagers.

I know first-hand that you can be a part of clubs and still be active in church; I participated and was an officer in 8 clubs in high school (I’m crazy, I know); however, I didn’t do sports while in high school, which are mega-time-consuming.  I also know that very few (if any) of your high school students will actually make it to the big leagues… Yet I also know the benefits of being on a team and the skills you can learn from that.  They are valuable skills that I think should be encouraged.

Teenagers need to be able to spread the gospel.

We emphasize to our teenagers about going into their “mission field” to spread the Gospel.  Where else can they spread it?  They can’t exactly spread the Gospel in math class.  There’s lunch period, but other than that there aren’t any real opportunities.

I think we should encourage our teens to get involved in clubs and sports so that they can have opportunities to spread the Gospel in real-life situations.  Otherwise, when they become an adult, their only experiences of sharing the Gospel will be from Missions Projects with their Youth Group.

Jesus isn’t exclusively at youth group.

One of the biggest annoyances to me is when youth pastors say that when a student doesn’t come to youth group, they’re putting their extracurriculars over Jesus. Really?  Are Sunday and Wednesday the only times that Jesus shows up?  And are you really that audacious to say that what you are providing is equivalent to Jesus?

Youth ministry isn’t exclusively at youth group.

Just like Jesus just isn’t on Sundays, neither should you.  We need to learn to reach teenagers on their turf.  

You need to consider the culture.  Honestly, if you live in a football town, why would you put a youth event on a Friday Night?  You should be at the game living life with them and rooting on your student players.  Maybe your students get swamped in the school year and Wednesdays aren’t the right days for you.

Ministry happens at the lunch table, at a baseball game, in a small group, in dodgeball, and in youth group.  It happens in a text conversation, and also in a warm hug.  They may not come to that 90 minute meeting, but is that all you’re offering them?  Small groups and mentors are great alternatives to youth group–just make sure you’re plugging them in and giving them options.

Consider that what you’re offering isn’t more appealing than chess club.

This goes back to culture–what reaches your students?  Maybe that senior girl doesn’t come to Wednesdays because she hates messy games and has no alternative.  Maybe that middle school boy doesn’t come because there are too many girls and he needs a small group of other guys.  You may have to consider that what you have going on isn’t pulling students in, and you may have to be courageous enough to do things differently.

I’m not saying to be “seeker friendly.”  I’m saying be “culturally appropriate.”  Jesus used parables in order to relate the Gospel in a way for people to understand it…and even that went over their heads.  So while you’re not always going to get it right, at least you tried to consider your students and reach them where they’re at.

Now, I get it:  There will be teens to do put up some pretty lame excuses as to why they can’t come. Love on them anyway.

What are some ways that you’ve encouraged your teens to do extracurriculars, but still maintained a healthy youth group presence?