2015 AG Youth Conference in Orlando, Florida
I’m not an expert on youth ministry. I’m sure there are many other approaches that can be (and are) very successful. These 6 tips are a few of my suggestions to help (spiritually and numerically) grow your youth group.
Prayer should never be your “last resort” or the “in case of an emergency” option. It should always be your FIRST action and be regular, especially if you are serving in ministry in any capacity. Teach and model prayer to the students, then encourage them to pray out loud!
A safe place to ask questions without fear of rejection or judgment.
Youth are bombarded with all kinds of crazy nonsense on a daily basis. Allow them to ask tough questions and provide a safe place for them to explain their thoughts on controversial topics without fear of judgment. When they start trusting you, they will ask you what you believe and you’ll have amazing opportunities to share the Gospel with them.
Pick youth leaders/pastors/directors who are godly, patient, mature, and kind adults who will be consistent.
Unsaved teenagers are not going to act like sold-out Christians on fire for God. You shouldn’t except them to. Youth leaders need patience, love, and grace to model godly behavior in spite of a teens actions. Leaders also need to be consistent and be an example of how Jesus loves and forgives. More and more teens are growing up in households with one or both parents absent from the home. Many families are dealing with financial hardships. A growing number of teens are struggling with depression, anxiety, insecurity, self-harm, and substance abuse. Try to make getting to know them, loving them, and speaking Jesus into their life the MAIN focus each week. I cannot stress enough how being consistent with love and grace can change a student’s life forever.
Challenge them in a productive and healthy way.
I heard someone say recently, “youth aren’t the church of tomorrow, they’re the church of today.” I completely agree with this statement! The church functions best when every age group is serving. Take them on mission trips to work for a ministry of some kind. Do community outreach projects. Engage them in small group discussions. Assign some to be greeters on Sunday mornings. Select students to give their testimony to the group. Encourage those who are gifted with singing to join the worship team. Let those that have hearts for kids help with VBS. Try the youth Alpha program (I HIGHLY recommend!). Make your sermons and devotions interactive. Teens love to talk and are never short on opinions. Use this to your advantage!
You need to be real with them. Stop trying to dress or act cool. Dress and act the way you would with anyone else. Stop trying to be their “friend who brings them to Jesus.” Youth need spiritually mature ADULTS who will be role models, mentors, and coaches. Youth need people in authority who will be godly, authentic, and live their lives with integrity for Jesus.
They need Jesus!
Some youth ministries focus so hard on games and events in the attempt to draw in more students, they forget the whole purpose for having a youth group. If you fail to present the Gospel and teach Scripture on a regular basis, they will grow up and leave the church because they have zero connection to Christ. The teens who attend your church, need to have a personal relationship with Jesus, no longer riding the coattails of their parent’s faith.
These suggestions are not to say you shouldn’t have fun or encourage them to make friends. In my experience, students want and crave more than that.
Ultimately, you cannot make a teenager accept Christ. Everyone has to make that choice for themselves. However, by adding these practices to your weekly gatherings, you will noticeably see a difference.
2 other tips for those who lead or serve in youth ministries:
If you find your ministry growing, it’s not about you. It’s about the students seeing Jesus in you.
Whether you have 5 students or 500, don’t compare your youth group to another. God has a purpose for your ministry. If your teens are spiritually maturing and growing in the gifts and callings God has given them, that’s all that matters. THAT is the mark of any successful ministry.