I HONESTLY love young people and youth ministry. I have led youth groups for the past 14 years, and the biggest lesson that I have learnt is this: the youth ministries that succeed are ones that have the full support of the church. It is as simple as that. So, here are five things that I wish the church knew about young people and youth work.
1 Youth ministry is a church-wide ministry, not a separate entity
Young people crave community; this is what fuels their fascination with social media. Their need to remain connected to their friends, to strangers who share their interests, and to people whom they admire. Behind the façade of apathy and moodiness is a heart that craves love, acceptance, and a place to belong.
This is why it is vital that your youth ministry is viewed as something that the entire church has to be involved with, not just the youth worker and volunteers. If you want to make an impact on the lives of the young people within your community, you need to make sure that the whole church is on board with this vision.
Here are some practical suggestions:
- Get to know the young people in your church, just as you would get to know the adults in the church.
- Attend big youth events. Even if you are just handing out hot chocolate, show them that they are valued.
- Attend a youth training seminar; be equipped to help your youth worker.
- Make sure that whoever is heading up your youth ministry is given a voice when planning big church events.
- Treat your youth leadership team well. Often, young people will judge a church by how it treats the team.
2 Young people need the church to practise what it preaches
Young people are very aware of the world around them. They are enthusiastic for social justice and the issues that are having an impact on their communities. If we want our young people to believe in a compassionate and all-loving God, we need to be practically demonstrating these characteristics within our community.
Here are some examples:
- What is the biggest need within your community? Create a ministry to address this need.
- Link up with organisations that care for the homeless, and encourage your young people to join you in volunteering.
- Address real-world issues during your services. This will help the young people view these issues from a Christian perspective.
3 Seek authenticity over flair
There is a misconception that young people are like magpies, attracted by sparkly things. You don’t need to have a high-tech, polished church service in order to attract young people. You don’t need to know all the latest grime songs, or have hip-hop worship.
In a world that values sparkle over substance, young people are far more attracted to a church where they are welcome, genuinely loved, seen as equals, valued as individuals, invested in, and given the tools to live as Christians within their lives outside of the church.
- Be authentic. Don’t water down your teachings for the sake of being “relatable”; ambiguity does not go down well with young people.
- Be yourself. You don’t need to be trendy to be effective in youth ministry: you just need to be yourself, have a heart for young people, and be equipped.
4 Invest in leadership development rather than a show
I love seeing young people feature in the main church service — but don’t let it stop there. Young people have so much to offer, and a huge part of their discipleship is the development of their gifts and passions. The occasional youth drama over Christmas is great, but make sure that there are structures in place to develop that willingness to serve. You never know, you might have the next Billy Graham or Jo Saxton in your youth group.
Here are a few small examples of how you can achieve this:
- Spend time with the young people; once that relationship is formed, it will be easier to identify individual gifts.
- If one of your young people shows promise in a specific area; shower them with affirmation, provide training, and allow them to serve at whatever capacity they are able.
5 It’s OK to say goodbye
Sometimes, you will lose young people to other churches. This is OK, and completely natural: as young people begin the process of “leaving the nest”, they will often leave the church that they grew up in so that they can establish their faith in a new environment.
As long as they are growing, celebrate this rather than take it personally.
Peter Landry is youth pastor at St Barnabas’s, Woodside Park.