Your Youth Ministry Strategy

This blog is reposted from Pastor Wayne Hedlund in August 2013. You can check out his blog, Transforming Leader, and follow him on Twitter.

In my 20+ years of ministry experience I’ve watched a lot of young people cycle through children’s ministries and youth groups. I’ve seen students from a variety of backgrounds, coming from healthy homes and broken homes, having attended public schools, christian schools and home-school. And I’ve watched them grow up and choose whom they will serve. I am always so proud to see young adults who I knew when they were young, now grown, and continuing to serve God in both full time ministry and in the marketplace. 

My first two children have just entered their teen years. I have to admit I’m scared out of my mind at times. I can’t help but look back on these past experiences with other kids and try to determine what I could do to ensure my kids end up knowing Christ and fulfilling their destinies in Him. A good friend reminded me that I’ll likely have it fully figured out when it’s too late. I certainly hope not!

All said, there are three factors I have consistently noticed which seem to have a huge impact on the spiritual growth of teens. I submit them to you for consideration as you develop & build your Youth Ministry Strategy.

Factor #1: A Loving Christian Home

I’ve noticed that, when a child grows up in a loving, stable & christian environment, they tend to develop into secure, strong individuals who love God and want to help build His kingdom on earth. Please understand, I don’t mean they grow up in a perfect family. I haven’t found one of those yet. What I do mean is a home where the parents have a growing faith in God and who consistently love and accept their children. 

This is why I recommend youth ministries incorporate family ministry into their strategy for reaching teenagers. The more youth leaders can equip and empower families to succeed in the home,  the better. Unfortunately, most youth leaders don’t know how to parent teens because they are either single or are just starting their family. This is why I believe smart youth pastors will get parents involved, seek their input and advice and do what they can to push resources to families that will help them succeed.

Factor #2: Involvement In A Passionate Youth Ministry

I have noticed a very big difference between young people who begin their Young Adult years serving Christ and those who don’t. Although I can’t back this with hard numbers, I can say with confidence that I have rarely seen teens keep their faith after High School who were not also involved in a passionate youth ministry. Let me clarify here that I’m talking about a youth ministry that includes passionate worship, relevant teaching and a lot of service or missions opportunities. 

This is why I recommend that your youth ministry strategy includes an unapologetic commitment to worship, preaching and missions. Contrary to some trends in youth ministry, I don’t believe a heavy diet of ‘fun’ is what our teens need or want. That’s not to say they shouldn’t have a blast. It just means that ‘fun’ should always be bundled in with relevant ministry. I also believe every youth ministry should find and support participation in Youth Camps. I’ve heard about and seen more salvations in a camp environment than anywhere else among teens.

That said, young people are still leaving the church in droves. I believe developing a solid young adults ministry which also incorporates the Sunday morning experience is a key to the church’s success in reaching the most unreached age group in our nation. Check out this article from the George Barna group as well as these statistics to learn more.

Factor #3: Leadership & Service Opportunities

If you want to watch young people bloom where they are planted, give them opportunities to make a difference. During my years as a youth pastor I’m glad to say we got this part right more often than not. Ironically, almost 100% of the teens we placed in roles of leadership within the church are now serving in full time ministry or are leaders in the local church as young adults. Meaningful service is what teens are looking for today. They want to make a difference and they want to be given opportunities to step out of their regular world to do so.

This is why I strongly urge churches (not just youth groups!) to incorporate teens into their leadership and volunteer strategies. Let them host bible studies for other teens & kids, lead and serve on the worship team, be assistant counselors at camp, help run the Sunday service, organize crafts for the preschool VBS, put together a special drama or dance for a creative special, speak for 5 minutes in a Sunday morning service, and more. Put them in charge of something and get them involved.

What other factors do you think contribute to strong, healthy Christian young adults?

Wayne Hedlund has accumulated more than 20 years of ministry experience, most of which took place at Elim Gospel Church in Lima, NY. His roles in the local church have spanned just about every aspect of ministry, including children, teens, college, care, worship, groups, services, events and leadership development. He currently serves on staff at Elim Fellowship, a ministerial association dedicated to strengthening leaders, equipping churches, and reaching the world.