Part 3: Growing Your Youth Ministry While Moving the Overall Needle
There isn't any demographic more concerned about another person on the planet than the parent of a teenager. Hormones are raging, the brain is still developing and there will be more impetuous, risk-taking, erratic behavior in these six or seven years than at any other time in their life. Into this cacophony of uncertainty and worry, God provides a guide through the minefield called the Holy Spirit and spiritual purpose that transcends the trends and fads of the day.
It's you. The church is the safe harbor He provides and there is no greater hero in the church today than those who give themselves to the care and love and service of youth ministry.
This, as is the case for each of the demographics in this series of articles, is about so much more than just church growth. There are souls at stake, and the trajectory of thousands of families hangs in the balance. Church growth has nothing to do with boasting about numbers and everything to do with one simple question: Can God trust you with those He sends you? Over the next page or so, I would like to share some strategies to help you engage and grow your youth ministry while also adding tremendous value and growth to your adult congregation.
5 Steps to Significant Church Growth Through Your Youth Ministry
- Build the Kingdom—Increase the Base: Large Events and Sunday Mornings
One of the criticisms of youth ministry is that some are perceived as just trying to entertain kids as opposed to truly discipling them. I've seen that, but I've seen the teen thrown out with the bathwater too. Growth doesn't happen with the people you have in the room. Growth comes from people who are in your community that the Lord is drawing to your church. For many teens, great, life-changing discipleship is not a first step draw, while a trip with their friends to a trampoline place or the local water park is just what they are looking for.
Step No. 1: A large outreach focused events that attract new students and give your own kids something to invite their friends to. Use these events to meet kids and to build the list of students who have attended something with your church. The goal is to get the student contact information, build your list and make an impression. Every time a new student attends an event, your list grows.
Step No. 2: Sunday Morning Youth Hang-Out: This is one of the most strategic things you can do for a number of reasons. Basically, designate an area in your lobby or outside somewhere that is not overly distracting but close enough that people can see it when they walk in the front doors. Set up and serve free donuts and some kind of drink. Play some music (not too loud) and even have a cornhole game out there. The student leaders know this is one of their leadership responsibilities where they serve, meet and greet. Your youth pastor is there meeting and greeting students and parents. Track the number of visitors.
Station your adult leaders at the church entrance with one mission: Find every teen who comes through the church doors and direct them and their parents to the youth hangout. At the hangout, there is information about youth services and upcoming activities and—you guessed it—some mechanism to ask for their contact information (Build that list). Can't lose. Can't miss. And the energy will go up significantly. If you have two services, do it between the two. It all takes place in 45 minutes or less, but what a great way to use your volunteers for set-up and clean-up. I guarantee it will be worth the cost of those donuts.
Let me be clear: If you want to alienate your senior pastor and three-fourths of the church, have 300 kids in your youth ministry on Wednesday and only 20-30 on Sunday morning. They will be thinking you are building your own ministry and not growing the church God planted you in ... and they would be right. Get creative with Sundays. Pastors need to free up your youth pastor and his leaders to make this a priority.
- Leader Recruitment and Development Is Job One: Multiply Yourself
Let me be as clear as I can possibly be. You can experience artificial growth through a charismatic leader, but when that leader leaves, so will the kids—eventually. But every youth ministry can grow if they will develop a leadership team that is devoted and will give you two hours each week—more in the summer.
Sit with your senior pastor and your leaders and decide what you will value most—two to three things that you collectively can get behind—and make those things the focus of every meeting and activity, and bathe every child in prayer around those themes. Plan collaboratively and pray collectively. Make sure every person on your leadership team possesses two things:
- Understanding of their individual role and action items.
- View of their place in your vision.
- Engage the Students God Sends You; Connect Them to Your Leaders and Each Other
The next thing is the key to everything: Help your leaders pastor the teens God sends you. If there are 100 kids on your master list, and you have 10 leaders, then every leader has their 10 to pastor (keep in touch, affirm, pray for, communicate, attend and remind). Share the responsibility for growth, attendance and care with your leaders—then walk and talk with your leaders every week. We talk to and even train young leaders when what they need is someone to walk with them.
This doesn't preclude your youth pastor's job of getting on the campuses, but it does look at youth ministry leadership in a different light. The greater the number of teens in your youth ministry, the more your job becomes walking with your leaders. All of the feedback from the students can come through the leader's strategic relationships with students. Coach them, encourage them, affirm them and challenge every leader to be as connected and engaged as their students will allow. Consistency and care must be their banners.
- Parent Communication—Inform Your Greatest Allies—Affirm Their Greatest Hopes
Keeping parents informed and engaged is one of your primary responsibilities because, if for no other reason, it's the parents who will have to drive over 70% of your teens to anything you do---and then come back and pick them up.
Tell on your students. If you read part 2, the children's ministry article on ministry growth yesterday, you remember me telling you to tell on kids—behind their backs. I would challenge you to write a minimum of five letters a week (fewer if you have a smaller program, scale accordingly). Write a letter. A half-page is all you need, more if you feel led, and tell that parent what you see in their kid. Never tell in person; send a personal letter: "To the Parents of," and give them something to put on that refrigerator. Ask your leaders for the stories and for what they see in each of their kids.
- Weekly Youth Service—This is Your Shot at Their Forever—Make It Count
Everything in numbers 1-4 is all for one purpose: to get those kids to a place where they can encounter Jesus through His people and hear the plan God has for their lives. Service prep and execution are bigger deals than you have been led to believe. Put the time in, and don't wing it. When you have their undivided attention, it won't last long—make it count, and give kids the opportunity to choose Jesus.
Remember that every visitor counts. Find ways to reward those who bring them and get their info—build that list.
Parents will pay anything they can and drive anywhere they need to drive to see their kids affirmed, challenged and quite honestly—in the year 2019—safe. But you have to be intentional about retention, outreach and leadership development. Remember, growth doesn't happen with the people you have in the room. Meet those parents and learn their names. It will pay dividends.
Rethink everything when it comes to your role in growing the church. How you pastor the teens God sends you will extend deep into the life of the whole family if you will simply make some small but profound changes in a few key areas. Build that base through your events and Sunday mornings and then when you have them sitting in front of you, remember it was all for that moment. Make it count.
The next article will focus on intentional outreach and retention in your young adult program—can't wait! Look for part 4 soon.
Dr. Rich Rogers is the director of Strategic Outreach at Free Chapel, with eight campuses in three different states pastored by senior pastor Jentezen Franklin. He is also the author of Next Level Living and Next Level Parenting (Charisma).
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