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I remember when our Senior Pastor came into my office with that look on his face, you know, the one, the look that says, “I have to talk to you about something serious.” He sat down across from me and set his phone on my desk, and I braced myself. I must admit my heart dropped a little. Surely, he must have noticed the terrified look on my face because what he said next shocked me and changed my world. As he leaned forward, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I have full confidence in you. This is your calling and your gift. I want you to pray about taking on the youth ministry in addition to the children’s ministry.”
“How would I ever be able to do both positions?” I thought. I had just got the children’s ministry off the ground. Although I didn’t have that much confidence in myself, I knew for certain that God could make it happen. He would equip me and teach me how to do both! At that time, youth ministry had 4 teenagers, and 2 of them were mine! So here we go! I accepted the new challenge and began to pray the moment my Pastor left my office. Four and a half months later, we are at 28 youth and almost growing out of our space! This is how it happened…
Isaiah 41:10 says this, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Scripture secures us when we have no idea of how to move forward. It is our calling as youth workers to teach God’s Word to our youth. They will need this when they walk through the ups and downs of life. To teach this is to know what the Bible says. Our God is an ever-present help. His purposes for us are good, to help us, not to harm us. Jeremiah 29:11 promises this. Our personal relationship and time with God must be the number one priority as a youth workers. I can’t express this enough. We can’t teach what we don’t know. With all my leaders in youth and children’s ministry, I make sure they are being poured into as they are pouring into the youth and children. We study Scripture together and on our own. We can only lead as far as we are willing to go ourselves, so as youth workers, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we willing to go deep to discover who God really is?”
If you have one student, start there. If you have 4 students, start there. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen ministries begin to crumble when they lose sight of being present for their students. Hang out, take your time to get to know your teens, be intentional, and be present. So often, as adults, we can miss this. Always act your shoe size, not your age! Youth ministry is a fantastic way to stay young! There can be amazing conversations over a game of Uno but not Spoons (I will tell that story in section 4!). Trust takes time with teenagers, especially if they have had multiple youth workers.
Every seasoned youth worker knows that we don’t pick the teen; they pick us. Teenagers talk, a lot, and word gets around pretty fast. Pizza, games, and more pizza….I am convinced pizza is the secret to growing a youth group. Fun events also help. For example, schedule some spring and fall retreats and mission trips, but don’t be tricked into lock-ins…they’re terrible (I’m kidding, sort of). But if you love your teens, you will do it for them. Just make sure you grab your coffee (lots and lots of coffee!), sleep the day before, and prepare for a crazy fun night with many great stories for years to come! Did I mention pizza? Pizza always helps!!!
I have seen many leaders be so focused on getting through the lesson that they forget about the relationships they are trying to build with their students. Let the students add to the lesson with their thoughts and stories. We want to show them, through example, what a relationship with Christ would look like. I imagine Jesus would hang on every word they say, make eye contact, and laugh at their corny jokes. Ask yourself, are you relationship-focused or lesson focused?
Fun and silly is what they need. Let them be teens; they’re very entertaining! Play with them, laugh at their jokes, tell a few of your own, and share silly stories from your past so they can get to know you! Nerf gun wars, Sardines, Body-Body, Protect the President, and Spoons are a youth group must. Every youth group loves to play Spoons! Years ago, we had a game of Spoons get so rowdy that one girl jumped across the table to get a spoon! Thankfully nobody was hurt, but it was a great bonding game! Camps, day trips, and local adventures once a month build momentum, and the youth can’t stop telling their friends about it.
Take the rabbit trails with your youth in conversation. If they feel heard, they will follow you right back to the topic when you rope the conversation back in. Remember to let them speak, don’t talk over them or be mean if they aren’t listening, and be patient. Let them share their stories, ask questions and get comfortable with silence. Trust me, they’re teens, they won’t stay quiet for long.
This is one of my favorites! I love to put the youth in the children’s ministry as student leaders to lead games and activities for the littles. This is for a few reasons – it helps refine their leadership skills, the children get to know the student leaders and really look forward to joining the youth group, and it gives the student leaders a sense of purpose in serving their church. The student leaders certainly rise to the occasion of being good leaders when they have littles that admire and look up to them!
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- How have you helped your youth group grow? Where have you struggled to bring in more students?
- Read 1 Timothy 4:12. How can you encourage your youth group to serve beyond themselves and take the role of a leader to the ones coming up behind them into your youth group?