My wife Soph and I began a youth group in Annandale in Sydney’s inner west this year. There hasn’t been a youth ministry at our church for probably 40 years. None of the other ministries in our suburb are reaching out to youth – and there are plenty of youth around! So after praying and talking and praying some more, we got underway in March this year.
I’m sure that there people out there who are thinking about starting up a youth group, but might feel like getting on the bike is just too daunting a step. So I thought I’d share some advice that I’ve picked up in my time involved with youth ministry.
The first step is always to pray and commit your plans to God, but what next?
1. Work out your goals
Often youth groups are running a certain way because that’s ‘the way it’s always been’! When you start a new group however, you have a chance to begin with a completely fresh slate. So think about what you’re trying to do. Set some goals and pray that God may use you to meet those goals. If you don’t aim to do anything, it’s pretty likely that you’ll get what you aim for. There’s no guarantee that you’ll achieve your goals either, but it’s far better to be aiming at something, rather than nothing.
No Guts, No Glory published by Matthias Media has a great chapter on setting goals. Read it, set some goals and then work out a plan that will help you to achieve those goals.
2. Make it all about Jesus
Soph and I recently visited a large youth group that was reaching lots of young people, growing, full of excitement and led with enthusiasm, but simply wasn’t about Jesus and his gospel. If your work is going to have any real or lasting impact upon the lives of young people, it will need to be driven by Jesus and his gospel. We are not seeking to just ‘get them through the door’, we are seeking to grow God’s kingdom, and God grows his kingdom through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our programs need to reflect this. We need to think about our activities and ask ourselves: are they focused on Jesus?
Jesus and fun are not incompatible. In fact, if you think that Jesus is the boring bit of youth ministry, then perhaps you should rethink your decision to start up a group!
3. Know your own context
Every youth group is different. What works in one group may not work in another. Some groups need to be on Friday nights, others work better on a Sunday afternoon or morning. Firstly, think about who you are trying to get to come along. Then think about what time to run the group. Think about their parents. Think about your location. Think about your local youth culture. Make your group one that will reach the young people in your local context. Don’t just try to import what some other group does somewhere else.
That being said, you don’t always have to re-invent the wheel. Talk to other youth group leaders. Visit other groups and take notes. There’s no copyright on most youth ministry ideas – only think about whether they will work in your context.
4. Pick the right leaders
Choose faithful, servant hearted, Christ-loving and teachable leaders. Your leaders will do so much of the ministry alongside you, so make sure that they are doing it for the right reasons. Youth leaders need to be of the same standard as any other leader in the church. They need to be committed to Christ, and to living in a godly way (1 Tim 3).
Don’t choose leaders ‘because it will be a good thing to help them get serious about Jesus’. Choose them because they are already serious. Doing youth ministry may well help them grow in many ways, but make sure they are on the right page before you invite them to get involved. Better to have fewer quality leaders, than a large team of leaders who cause you problems or who aren’t committed to what you’re doing.
5. Train for the future
Even as you start up the group, be thinking about the future leadership of the group. This is helpful for a few reasons. Firstly it stops you from building the group to rely upon one person too much. If you have in your mind that you are only overseeing this group until God puts another person in that role to do this work (even if that’s ten years from now), it will stop you from becoming ‘indispensable’. A good question to ask is ‘Who will be in the leadership team in two years from now?” Once you’ve worked that out, it’s time to think about what you’ll do now to equip the leadership team of the future for the task.
Secondly, youth groups can be a fantastic training ground for enthusiastic young leaders to hone their skills in ministry. Even if you stay around long term, by training your leaders, you are equipping them with skills that they will be able to use in many other ministry contexts in their future. So teach your leaders to preach, to pray, to lead, to write bible studies and to think biblically. Think about how you can use your youth group to train up people for gospel ministry beyond the youth group.