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So, you’re in a church that is too small to hire a youth minister, even a part-time one- welcome to the majority of churches in the world! Most churches in the world have a completely volunteer led youth ministry.
The median church size in the United States is 75. In fact, it is reported that 59% of churches in the U.S. have less than 100 worshipers on Sundays, and the overwhelming majority of churches have less than 500 in weekly attendance. Most churches this size cannot afford a full-time (or even part-time) position for a youth minister salary, yet it seems like most of the training and resources in the world of youth ministry cater to paid youth workers.
Volunteers may certainly be aware of great resources like the Center For Parent And Youth Understanding but many are not. Many volunteer youth leaders may easily get discouraged, having faithfully prepared a lesson for Sunday morning or Wednesday night, only to have one, or zero, youth show up. Volunteer led youth ministry can feel lonely.
What strategies might work to get a volunteer driven youth ministry going in your church? How can workers keep from feeling discouraged or burnt out? Here are three simple ideas that can make an incredible impact on the way we do ministry with teens:
- Find ways to merge teens into the life of the church without feeling the need to start a whole new program. Every church wants a thriving youth program, but many churches are not program size congregations. Most churches that are able to hire a youth minister will initially fund the position on a part-time basis. Teens do not need a flashy program for discipleship to occur, they need nurturing in their faith and to see Christ’s love modeled by caring adults. They do not need to learn that church exists to cater to them, but that we are all in this together, and that inter-generational ministry will have lasting value on their lives. There is certainly a time and place for a program based youth ministry, but I predict that youth ministry in the future will become less entertainment driven and more incarnational, and that small churches may take the lead in being labs for youth ministry experimentation. How exciting!
- Partner with other church groups for youth events. Instead of creating an entire youth program for your church (and expecting teens to magically show up) partner with other churches that may also only have a few teens. Starting small, and finding other volunteer youth leaders in the community to partner with is good for students and for volunteers. Students see that there are teens in other churches and have a chance to fellowship with like-minded people their age, and volunteers share the burden of planning an event like a weekly Bible study, a monthly fellowship, or even a summer mission experience.
- Share your passion for student ministry with your pastor. Many pastors are former youth ministers and already share your excitement about reaching teens and their parents with God’s love. This means that pastors may naturally serve as valuable resources for volunteers looking for youth ministry ideas. (As a starting place, you can always download some free lessons from the SMI team here.) If you share your heart for youth ministry with your pastor, I’m sure he/she will show gratitude and excitement, and remain excited to help equip you in the work of youth ministry. If you are a volunteer who has a passion for youth ministry and you have to deal with a pastor who is not supportive of your passion to reach young people, I’ll be praying for you, and for the future of your congregation!
Our youth are the future of the church, (cliché, I know) and you are likely reading this because you agree that ministering to youth is important. My encouragement to you, especially if you are a volunteer youth leader, is that the work you do is vital. God has given you a passion for reaching students with the love of Christ, and we are here to help. Have questions? Have ideas? share in the comment section below!
Jeff Strong, an associate pastor and emergent church leader in Waterdown, Ontario shares some great insight on his blog as to mistakes parents make concerning their teenager’s faith. His list includes:
10. Not spending time with your teen.
9. Letting your teen’s activities take top priority for your family.
8. Spoiling your teen.
7. Permissive parenting.
6. Trying to be your teen’s best friend.
5. Holding low expectations for your teen.
4. Not prioritizing youth group/church involvement.
3. Outsourcing your teen’s spiritual formation.
2. Not expressing genuine love and like to your teen.
1. Expecting your teen to have a devotion to God that you are not
cultivating within yourself.
I have seen each of these in youth parents over the years. Some parents struggle exclusively with one of these “mistakes,” and other parents struggled with all ten! Jeff’s list was posted a while back, but I saw it for the first time today, and thought, “He NAILED IT!”
The list is quite overarching, but I would add one mistake to the list… 11.) Letting your teen think discipleship is all about being in a church program of some sort. Go with your family on mission projects, find service opportunities like the food bank or a soup kitchen, and teach your kids that following Christ is more than having a “quiet time” or attending church for an hour a week.
Many families in our culture are guilty of consumerism when it comes to faith. We consume faith like we consume reality TV shows, the latest smart-phones, or name brand clothing. Many families bounce from one church to the next based on who has the biggest youth program. I have heard parents come to my church and say, “we left ____________ church because they didn’t offer enough for our kids.” That may be true on both counts, but the consumer mentality underlies the frustration of the parents. For many, church is not a community of believers participating in the ushering in of God’s kingdom on earth; Church is a non-profit that provides religious goods to for consumption, like hip worship, good programs, and entertaining youth facilities.
Parents should not buy into the consumer mentality, but rather teach their kids that discipleship is finding where God is active and present, and serving in that place. Serving as family can have a powerful impact on teens. Many parents never volunteer with the youth group because they feel like they will be intruding on their teen’s “time with friends.” My experience has been that teens who see their parents model faithful discipleship are more rooted in their faith, and better equipped to live as disciples after leaving home.
Some churches provide few opportunities for parents to model Christians discipleship and service to teens, because their strategy for youth ministry is to split families apart on Sundays, offering age graded ministry from cradle to grave. Teens who experience inter-generational ministry are more likely to grow up with the understanding of church as community, rather than an understanding of “church is here to serve me.” Millennials highly value community and authenticity. Parents can disciple their teens by modeling both community and authenticity with the way they serve. Just taking the kids to church on Sunday, dropping them off in the youth building, and picking them up an hour later after “big church,” fails to model true Christian community. When teens see that the teachings of Christ do not impact, in any way, their parent’s concern for the poor, their family’s spending habits, or concern for the environment, the faith parents think they model loses a great deal of authenticity in the mind of teens. So don’t let your teen think discipleship is all about being in a church program of some sort. That may be the biggest mistake of all.