Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
If you have been around youth ministry very long then you have observed how some student ministries seem to grow wide but have little to show for it when it comes to growing deeply devoted followers of Christ.
On the other hand, you may have noticed that some youth ministries grow spiritual roots deeper than a Redwood tree. However, they can’t’ seem to attract or win the lost through their efforts.
So today we are going to consider 7 essential steps to grow your student ministry both deeper and wider
The following list is a summary of sorts – a collection of responses that surfaced from a combination of student ministry consult interviews and surveys.
I have organized the list into 7 essentials found among growing youth groups. This list reflects part-time and full-time ministries without regard to the level of professional youth ministry training achieved by the volunteer or paid staff leader.
So what are these Seven Essentials for Growing Student Ministries Deeper and Wider?
1. Small Groups:
Growing student ministries focus on small group relationships as much as major events. Recognizing the important role small groups play in the spiritual development of an adolescent is a key factor in growing both numerically and spiritually. To calculate your small group effectiveness consider the ideal formula of having one small group for every 8 students in your average attendance. Each Small group should float between 5-10 students with ideally about 7 in attendance. Depending on the age group, interest level, and the time availability of the teacher/facilitator, one group may need to be smaller. Although, other groups can afford to expand without losing the necessary high-touch factor.
If you want more info on the important role of small groups, check out the training video on our YouTube channel dedicated to this topic and titled “The Importance of Small Groups”
2. Quality Excellence:
Growing student ministries have a natural tendency towards programming excellence. The idea is that growing ministries strive for producing programming that is perceived as high quality. Regardless of whether it is or is not high quality compared to the star-powered mega-church – to the parents and youth involved in it and who serve within it – the ministry is perceived and received as programming excellence. Even if it is not Disney quality it is considered top-shelf by comparison.
3. Giving Students Leadership Roles
Growing student ministries will look for opportunities in which to place students into leadership roles. Successful youth ministers want students to be personally involved in accomplishing their mission, vision, and weekly ministry gatherings. They know the value of students developing spiritually through doing, through preparing, and through personal involvement. This essential recognizes the fact that student leadership cannot be limited to those who play and sing with the praise band, are extrovert, or popular.
4. Don’t Repeat Unproductive Ministry Events
Growing student ministries strive not to repeat unproductive ministry programming or events. Growth happens with those who are willing to discard or conclude a ministry that has proven unproductive over time. If you have given your best effort at making a ministry productive to no avail, then you must have the courage to discontinue it. Remember, an unproductive ministry due to programming ignorance or laziness is not the same as an unsuccessful ministry.
5. Identify and Encourage Through Floodlight Ministry
Growing student ministries identify and encourage one another using a flood light rather than a spotlight. Understanding the benefits of flood light ministry is key to high-touch growth. When we treat all students the same regardless of abilities, looks, popularity, athletic ability, etc. the tendency towards inclusiveness breeds acceptance and growth. A spotlight promotes individualism and exclusiveness much like a clique. A floodlight distributes its beams equally regardless of how much or how little a youth brings to the table.
6. Embrace and Promote Change
Growing student ministries will embrace and promote change. Now I don’t mean changing things for change sake (although sometimes even that is necessary in extreme stagnant cases) When it comes to change, we must remember that every ministry has its season. Some ministry programs will last a lifetime, like Summer Camp or Disciple Now Weekend. While the content may change and the programming updated, the concept of an annual ministry event like summer camp may outlive several generations of youth. On the other hand, some ministry initiatives have a very short life-span. They establish them with the intent of only accomplishing a specific, time-sensitive ministry goal. Knowing when it is time to conclude a particular ministry program must be bathed in prayer and executed with humility and confidence.
7. Celebrate Parent Involvement
Growing student ministries celebrate involvement and participation from parents and other adults. More than chaperones, these are adults who are youth-friendly – who choose to invest in the spiritual development of teenagers. Committed volunteers provide students with a significant other-person to which they can turn when the storms of adolescences flood their lives.
Deep and Wide . . . it’s not just a kids song from days gone by.
Friday, July 22nd, 2016
What is it that makes some youth ministries more successful than others? Why do some stagnate, decline or fail while others grow healthy and numerically? Is there a collection of habits that successful or exceptional student ministers practice? In our survey and interviews, we have found ten practices that stand out as doable and adaptable for just about any student minister.
For this study, I focused on two criteria for classifying student ministers as highly exceptional. Managing a growing student ministry for at least three years. I chose three years for two reasons.
1. First, the 3-year mark is just under the cut-off of the average length of stay for paid student ministers in the US (3.9 yrs).
2. Second, the 3-year mark helps prevent a skewed result from those who have not managed or built a ministry but rather inherited the kingdom, so to speak. Seeing continuous growth for three years means that you’re likely looking at a minister who is doing what he does well and not just reaping the benefits of what was built for him.
Let’s take a look at these habits and practices.
1. They Exercise
While this is probably not what you were expecting to top the list it is a reality of healthy youth ministers and ministries. Youth pastors who remain active through a sport, hobby, exercise routine, running club, organized leagues, etc. were more likely to remain satisfied in their position and be successful in the youth ministry arena.
2. They Celebrate
Not only do they celebrate the involvement and victory of volunteers, parents, and student leaders, they also celebrate big and little victories in the lives of students, families, and major ministry events. The celebratory factor creates joy and excitement that radiates from a winning team.
3. They Are Not Afraid to Fail
Successful student ministry ships are captained by those who are not afraid to attempt something new or extraordinary. It is not that they are never afraid but rather they make a habit of overcoming fear in order to experiment with change or create something from scratch. They do not allow fear to keep them from what could make the ministry successful.
4. They Are Confident
This is not the same as being arrogant but more akin to being secure – in what they know, who they serve and how they will organize the ministry God has entrusted to their care. Since the church already suffers from an overabundance of arrogant leadership, we should strive to balance the scales with humble confidence.
5. They Plan and Administrate Well
Over the years student ministers have acquired quite a reputation for being disorganized. I think it suffices to say that if you want to succeed in student ministry you will either organized, plan, and manage out of a natural skill set or you will force yourself to learn, adapt and acquire the needed skills to plan and manage well. Otherwise, you will become a casualty of chaos or burn-out.
6. They Prioritize Well
Successful student ministers have a habit of putting the family in the correct biblical order – ahead of ministry. Some of the most frustrated people in the world are spouses of student pastors and often the root of a premature exit. Too often student ministers appear better at managing the ministry calendar than their marriage and families. It must be both/and.
7. They Maintain a Devotional Prayer Life
It is no surprise that successful student ministers hold their daily devotional time in high regard. They insist upon nurturing an ongoing devotional commitment. It is the one thing, no matter what comes, must be retained, restarted, reignited, and reestablished however many times it takes to preserve it.
8. They Are Not Afraid to Ask for Help
While this may appear surprising to some, most youth ministers realize how much pride exists among ministers. This is especially true among youth ministers who are often times young, inexperienced, and highly pressured to produce. This can lead to a reluctance to ask for help for fear of appearing inept. Successful student leaders know when it is time to get assistance and they are not too shy or proud to ask for it.
9. They Listen More Than They Talk
While this is a valued trait in any profession, it is especially beneficial in the world of student ministry. Listening is paramount among those who serve teenagers as teens need to express their thoughts, be heard, and listened to. Often youth are learning about themselves when they are talking, and listening will deliver a truck-load of insight.
10. They Know the Team They Are On is More Important than the Team They Lead
One of the realities of successful ministry enjoyment is arriving at the conclusion that the staff team is more essential to your success and happiness than the youth staff or volunteer team you direct. While both are certainly important, one must take priority and that one is the pastor and staff you serve alongside.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” I Cor. 9:24-27
If you’d like to analyze your own ministry, take our ministry excellence assessment and find out where you’re doing well and where you could improve in your ministry!
Sunday, May 25th, 2014
I think us new guys on the youth ministry scene tend to treat all those who’ve paved ways before us (the pavers) like Coach Brickma from Rookie of the Year (the coach in that clip, who for some unknown reason was an MLB pitching coach). There’s a fad (which I love to be a part of sometimes) that loves to bash those youth ministries and youth pastors who have gone before us. Don’t get me wrong, I love making fun of old youth ministry names like “Xtreme” (I’m looking at you dad… In his defense, it was cool at the time), and “C.I.A. – Christians In Action”. And don’t get me wrong – there were and most definitely still are some Brickmas running youth ministries all over America. But why not apply the golden rule to our forerunners, here? Let’s treat those who have gone before us the way we should treat all pioneers – by asking the question: What can we learn from their successes and failures?
** For the sake of brevity, “those who have gone before us”, aka all those youth pastors who ministered from about 2005 and back, I’m going to call “The Pavers” (open for suggestions on a better name).
I believe there are a few factors at play for WHY newbies tend to treat Pavers with a “pffff” kind of attitude:
Because many of us have risen out of the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement.
The rise of neo-Calvinism, like many movements, has had its share of negative impacts as it has also had many positive impacts. Careful, theological discernment and concentration on true Gospel ministry with Christ-centered preaching have created a lot of “amens” for a lot of well-supported reasons. However, it has become prominent among this conservative evangelical sub-culture to create unnecessary lines in the sand just for the sake of originality and/or argument. Just because many of the Pavers and their fellow staff members and church leaders probably got carried away with building churchy kingdoms with some legalistic foundations does not mean we go to the opposite extreme. In effect, it has become trendy to treat many Pavers like everything they did was wrong and/or anti-Gospel. This simply is not true and creates division within the universal church instead of Christ-centered, cross-generational unity. Ease up on the heat there, Rocket (Another Rookie of the Year reference).
Because many have a sour taste in their mouth from a Brickma.
So you had the displeasure of sitting under the leadership of a Brickma youth pastor as a student; the guy who had no theological or professional youth ministry training, and since there was nobody else “young enough to relate to “them young’ns” or willing, they called on Brickma to coach ‘em up. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because you had a bad experience with an untrained youth pastor when you were a student, doesn’t mean you should throw all of “those old, traditional youth ministry methods” out the window. Pump the brakes there, Scuffy McGee (and another… its just such a great movie).
Because many are badly mishandling statistics.
The Lifeway study from 2007 that discovered, “70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22”, has been vastly mishandled. This is one of several “dropout” stats from which so many youth and senior pastors have been shocked into overreactions. It’s a freakout which has certainly increased Family Ministry advocates’ book sales. Instead of rewriting an already beautiful script, I’ll let a veteran debunk these faulty stats by turning them on their heads – actually proving there’s a reason to celebrate youth ministries:
Whatever reason(s) you may have jumped on this train of critique, it’s time we stop and ask ourselves, “What can we learn from the successes and failures of the Pavers?” So, here are 6 lessons I believe we can take away from them:
1. Fun is Necessary
Let’s be honest, the Pavers were pretty creative with fun and games. The rise of PowerPoint games was genius was it not? I’ve heard statements from my generation of youth pastors like, “We don’t do games because if they are the draw for our ministry, they’ll be the anchor… and we want Christ to be the anchor.” Pardon me while I throw up. Since when did this notion that fun and games removes Christ from a ministry’s center, come about?
Elle Campbell, a blogger over at stuffyoucanuse.org and ellecampbell.org, recently wrote concerning the matter of fun, “We should be strategic about infusing our weekly environments with fun.” She gave these reasons: “Fun matters to a kid’s faith, fun matters to a kid’s relationships, fun matters to a kid’s development, fun over time equals connection, fun over time convinces kids you actually like them; fun over time makes a friendship go deeper; fun over time reconnects what has been disconnected.” (Go check the full post out here)
Students connect with fun. You can build trust through fun avenues and break walls down that would not have crumbled had there not been a sledgehammer of fun. This doesn’t mean you develop an entire youth ministry around fun and games. But it also doesn’t mean you dump fun and games completely. I’m thankful for creative Pavers who actually understood and applied this. How sad it is to develop a student ministry in the name of “creating true disciples”, that no one wants to be a part of… get your spiritual nose out of the clouds, bro.
2. Developmental Levels Matter
I’m very grateful for Pavers who are now teaching the importance of understanding adolescent developmental levels. This is essential to ministering effectively in youth ministry. All of life can be seen as a stretching or a shrinking back. Growth from one stage to the next is not automatic and certainly not directly related to age. Every teenager is working through different physical, social, emotional, and intellectual levels of life. Without a proper understanding of where they’re at in their development, we’ll be wasting time. We can take a lesson from the Pavers in understanding developmental levels to help us holistically approach discipleship to students.
“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments”– (Psalm 78:5-7)
The Psalmist is wanting to touch the MINDS of youth – what they know, “that the next generation might know…the deeds of the Lord… the works of God.”The Psalmist is wanting to touch the HEARTS of youth – what students feel, “so that they should set their hope/trust in God.”And lastly, the Psalmist is wanting to touch the HANDS of youth – what they do, “keep his commandments.”
I pray that our generation of youth pastors will take notes from our forefathers to be learners of the adolescent developmental levels so that we can minister to the minds, hearts, and hands of youth. That is how we see faith put into action – that’s how the vets did it.
3. Putting The Right Students in Leadership Roles exemplifies Eph. 4:12
It’s downright painful to watch a student who has not been equipped for the work of a ministry, in a leadership role – doing damage to the testimony of Christ. But at least that youth pastor is trying… what’s even more painful to me is seeing a one-man show youth group led by the megalomaniac youth guy who has control issues – never equipping saints to do ministry and lead out. The Pavers can teach us a lesson on equipping saints for ministry.
4. Isolation From Parents Is Necessary
Let me explain. I agree that too often, parents use youth ministries as a “spiritual drop off service”; too often, parents see youth pastors as “professionals” they pay to do the disciplining. But the solution, I believe, is NOT to integrate them into every inch of your youth ministry; or just completely abandon age-segregated ministries in exchange for family ministry. Instead, let’s take a page from the Pavers’ notebook and be strategic about when and how to include parents. Adolescents benefit greatly from local church leaders’ discipleship. A students’ small group leader can reach a student in a way that a parent cannot. A youth pastor’s sermon can preach in a way that the senior pastor’s or the fathers cannot. I’m thankful for the re-emphasizing of parents being the primary disciplers of the home that has surfaced these last few years. But let’s not make Pavers the scapegoat of the broken partnership between parents and youth and children ministries. The church as a WHOLE is to blame for not partnering with parents. Senior Pastors need to be preaching it; small groups need to be discussing it; youth pastors need to be reinforcing it.
Family Ministry advocates can use their “adolescence was an invention in the 20th century” excuse all they want, but those of us in the 21st century not trying to turn the clock back are going to “understand the times” (1 Chron. 12:32). Students need a Christ-centered community to belong to that separates them from their parents for 3 hours of the week. This allows walls to break down that wouldn’t have happened if mommy was 10 feet away.
5. Emphasizing rights and wrongs created legalism
Unfortunately, there seemed to be too much of an emphasis from the Pavers on the do’s and don’ts of Christianity. The intentions were for the sake of holiness, no doubt – but what happens when we emphasize rules? Legalism. On the reverse, what happens when we emphasize grace without works? Licentiousness. The Gospel destroys both. Thankfully, this new wave of youth ministry seems to have revitalized a true Gospel focused on teaching sound doctrine. My prayer is that we don’t make the mistake of swinging that pendulum from the extreme moral right, over to the extreme reckless left. Let us teach our youth how to love the Lord their God with all their mind (KNOW), heart and soul (FEEL), and strength (DO).
6. Hand Motions to Worship Songs Were Horrible.
Thanks for that one, Pavers…
What are some other lessons this new generation of youth pastors can learn from Pavers?
Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
Strive to learn every student’s name as soon as possible, especially in small groups. In larger groups this can be a challenge but doable. In huge groups, this may be impractical or nearly impossible. It should always be someone’s responsibility to KNOW the students’ names. So according to the size of ministry, if it is not you, make certain someone on the team is on top of it – like small group leaders. Nothing breaks down barriers with students, especially peripheral or visiting youth like calling them by name. It communicates to students that you take a personal interest in serving them. Also, try to avoid the habit of using generic camouflage names like sport, buddy, man, girl, or friend. Students will only give you a “pass” for so long. In most cases, the use of generics simply increases the suspicion that you don’t know who you are speaking to. Students hearing their names will greatly enhance your ministry. A survey was conducted among elementary kids and the question was asked: What is love? Billy, age 4 said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28)
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
For more resources or to assess your ministry go smeonline.net/excel.
Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
Staff, students, and parents will all endear themselves to you much more readily if you can become comfortable with admitting failure and imperfections. Your job does not demand perfection and you can not deliver it. People love to pull a perfectionist down, but they tend to root for the one they can relate to . . . the flawed with imperfections, in need of forgiveness type. I’m not talking about self-depreciation or washing your ministry laundry in front of the parents or leadership. I am referring to the benefit in finding greater comfort with saying – I need your help, I may have rushed that a bit, I wish I had done that differently, and that did not turn out as I envisioned it. Really it is about the admitting and acceptance of the fact that you have nothing to offer if Christ is not your benefactor of grace and strength. Remember…
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
For more resources or to assess your student ministry go to smeonline.net/excel
Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
Prayer and daily time with the Father are the only way to survive beyond the beginner stage of Student Ministry. The beginner stage is usually 3 years. The only way to survive beyond the veteran status is prayer, daily time and volunteer leadership. This is usually around the five years mark. Becoming an equipper of the saints is the only hope of passing the seven-year mark. People consider you exceptionally tenured if you make it this far. Every young youth minister dreams of making a huge impact. They want to see loads of students come to know Christ as savior. The best gift you can give yourself is alone time with the Father, time in the word, and commitment to developing volunteer leadership.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
For more resources or to assess your student ministry, go to smeonline.net/excel.
Saturday, March 2nd, 2013
But there are many in student ministry who mistakenly applied an extreme version of Simple Student Ministry and slashed their ministry events so far back that the only students still attending are those ready for deepening discipleship or those who have no choice in their participation. A healthy youth ministry is has a leader who endeavors to create strategic fun and deepening discipleship within the same ministry.
The 336 Strategy
The First Three Months
The Second Three Months
The Last Six Months
Friday, March 1st, 2013
|Survey results Shock MTV|
Friday, March 1st, 2013