This week we’re going to focus on some of the best practices of youth ministry nationwide and hope that it generates some helpful conversation as you agree, disagree or have no opinion either way! Right up front we want to let you know that there is no PERFECT way to do youth ministry; our hope is that you prayerfully consider your context and determine what would and wouldn’t work in the ministry you lead.

BEST PRACTICE: Dividing up junior high and high school students.
There is simply too much difference between a 12-year-old 7th grader and an 18-year-old graduating senior—specifically, the developmental differences. Plus, on a practical note, keeping them separate gives the junior highers something to look forward to. Having said all that, there are some incredible opportunities when you keep these groups together. The older students can disciple and model what younger students can become over the next few years.

QUESTIONS:
• Do you have separate ministries for junior and senior high?
• Why or why not?
• What are other pros and cons of dividing up these age groups?
• What would happen if you made the switch?

BEST PRACTICE: Small groups being the primary method of discipleship and fellowship.
Most youth groups meet once a week for a large-group time of celebration, fun, and worship; and then either as part of that gathering, or at another time during the week, divide up into small groups for fellowship and discipleship. The overwhelming model has been for groups to work through a curriculum and also share life and Christian community together.

QUESTIONS:
• Does your church have small groups, Sunday school, or just large group times?
• Why have you chosen this strategy?
• What is the weakness of this model?
• Sunday school used to be invincible; now it has largely been replaced by small groups. What’s next?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Here are the texts/emails we sent out to students who participated in HSM’s Back to School Pray Fast Challenge. If you missed yesterday’s post on it, check it out here!

Day 1 – Personal- Pray for your relationship with Christ and read 2
Corinthians 13:5-7.

Day 2 – Promise- Focus on the promise God revealed to us in Psalms
119:105. How does that relate to us.

Day 3 – Passion- Focus on Matthew 22:37-40 and think about how can you do
this more.

Day 4 – Pastoring - Focus on how can you be more of a light to the people
around you and read Matt 5:14-16.

Day 5 – Protection - Pray for God’s protection over others and yourself.
Be specific in the areas you want protection from God. Read Proverbs 18:10

Day 6 – Perseverance – Read and focus Romans 5:3-5 Pray that God would
help you perservere and see the benefits it has on your character.

Day 7 – Password - Focus on Psalms 100:1-5 also take the time to think
about having a heart of gratitude. Thank God and others.

JG



Dare2Share and Greg Stier are doing a free webinar on “The Missing Link in Discipleship” tomorrow (Tuesday August 7th) that includes a free giveaway of my brand new book “Firing Jesus” to everyone who attends. The goal is to help youth leaders walk away with tools/ideas to become way more effective in equipping teens to share their faith.

  • Tuesday August 7th: 12:00-1:00 PM CST(10-11 AM Pacific, 11-Noon Mountain,1-2 PM Eastern)
  • Tuesday August 7th: 7:30-8:30 PM CST(5:30-6:30 PM Pacific, 6:30-7:30 PM Mountain,8:30-9:30 PM Eastern)

JG

Tyler Braun is a pastor from Portland, Oregon whose first book, Why Holiness Matters, just released. Learn about an exclusive offer for purchasing the book. You can find Tyler on Twitter or his blog, manofdepravity.com.

What inspired you to write the book?

Almost two years ago I began to think about what I lost in not valuing my innocence throughout my adolescent years. I began to think about how Christian culture places such a incredible focus on authenticity and brokenness about sin that we can easily have people believing they need a past in order to fit in.
From there I had a conversation with an author who told me she was concerned about my generation’s lack of desire for holiness. I immediately drew the connection between my lack of innocence to my lack of holiness. And I saw how my own life story of not valuing innocence, getting comfortable with sin, and then waging a war with my shame, was really a story about holiness (or lack thereof). This is what inspired the book.

What has been your experience in the church personally and what are your hopes and dreams for what it could become?

Having been a pastor’s kid my entire life, all I’ve ever known is going to church and being involved at church. Whether it be Sunday morning service dramas where I had to wear make up or the endless amount of youth group all-nighters, I’ve done almost every crazy thing there is to do at the local church level. More than that though, I’ve grown up in the church growth movement where focus was given toward how to do church rather than why to do church.
My dreams for the church are to continue getting the why down right before we ever consider how to do church. The church is the hope of the world as long as the relationships within lead closer to Christ. We need churches that continue to sacrifice themselves for the sake of allowing those without hope to have hope.

What is most frustrating to you about the faith of the Millennial Generation?

We want to do a lot without being anything. I think we’ve gotten the Christian life flipped around. We focus so much on activism and being engaged in the world around us that we can forget who has sent us out. Church becomes unnecessary when the entirety of faith is about what we do. And we’ve seen this reflected in the gaping hole most churches have between the ages of 15 and 35.
Someone recently told me regarding our cultural engagement efforts, the fruit looks great, but we’ve lost the vine, which is Christ.
Allowing Christ’s love for us to push us out into loving others can often become a human effort where we love others in order to impress them and God. Rather than seeing where we messed this up, we instead blame the church for being out of touch. We must come back to Christ and begin by allowing His love for us to shape us.

Tell us an authentic story about yourself to prove you’re not a robot.

In college I played intramural basketball with a bunch of my friends and during one game the other team had a girl who decided to guard me. She told me just to play my normal game. I’m a competitive guy so I didn’t think anything of it. I was going to make the team pay for putting a girl on me.
I went off in that game. I’ve had some hot shooting streaks in my day but nothing like this. I made 11 three-pointers that game. It felt as if I was playing NBA Jam circa 1998 in real life. But more than all those made shots I remember this girl guarding me tough when I was in the corner. I weaved the ball around and my elbow just clipped her nose. In the midst of the best game of my life I managed to become the schmuck who elbowed a girl in the face. I think I apologized to her 25 times that night.
But it worked out because that girl became my wife 3 years later.

I assume a follow-up book is planned or you’ve got something coming up next. Fill us in!

I’m going to be releasing an ebook on mentoring tentatively titled, “How to Find and Thrive With a Mentor.” The set up is my own story of going mentor-less for over 5 years, and then I provide some needed principles for a Millennial to seek after and then find someone to speak into their life. I think it’s a practical but needed guidebook for many based on tons of conversations I’ve had with others who want a mentor but can’t find one.

Beyond that, I’m kicking around some ideas for a 2nd book to follow up Why Holiness Matters, but nothing is set in stone right now. I’ll continue to serve diligently at my church, and write as time allows. I believe God calls us to speak into the vast emptiness of our world. That work never ends.

Thanks, Tyler. Looking forward to reading your new book!

JG



I love summer in Youth Ministry for so many reasons, its the change of gears, its the relational time, its students dropping by the office, I just love it. For our youth group, its high time for events. We have lots going on because after all,there are students around and many have little to do, so lets harness that energy. Between 5 major events, beach hangout days and other small activities our summer calendar has much to offer for students looking for something to do, but there is one weekly event that has taken on a life of its own.

In the city I work in there  are three major high schools and right near all of them in an area commonly know as “uptown” sits a McDonalds location that is always filled with students. Seeing that they are there anyway, we decided two summers ago to launch “Uptown Wednesdays”. From 1-3pm every Wednesday of the summer we meet at McDonalds and if you come we will buy you and ANYONE you bring a soda. Here is what is awesome about that:

Drinks are $1 ($1.12  including tax) – Last week 31 students showed up and the whole event cost $34.72. I can not think of a better way to spend $34 for a two hour youth event.

Outreach: This events is one that so many students bring their friends to in fact last summer multiple students I met in the summer that were guests of our students came to youth and got plugged in because they knew myself and some of our leaders. Building trust and relationships with new students before september is helpful for them to act on the invitation to the group in the fall. This safe off-site space is their territory and thus much more conducive for students to invite their friends to.

Discipleship- Its so great to check in with our students and have some real one on one conversations, ask about their life, how we can pray for them and encourage them. Our regular gather might be off for the summer, but pastoring our students happens every week and happens at McD’s

I fall in love with Youth Ministry again – In the midst of a really busy year and working with adult volunteers and attending staff meetings, I often find myself longing to connect with students and with the size of our group that isn’t always possible. Small relational events remind me of what God has called me to do. It’s those conversations that help me see the world through their eyes, and understand for a moment what its like to be in high school in 2012 and hopefully be a better pastor to them.

-Geoff

Back in high school I had to borrow my neighbors car to run a few errands.  As I picked up the car I asked him, “Is there anything I need to know?” He replied, “Keep your eye on the flow of traffic because the speedometer is broken.”  Being a new driver I didn’t realize how big of a deal this was until I was heading down the road passing what felt like a million cops with no clue whether or not I was speeding.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that you need every gauge on your car’s dashboard to head down the road safely.  Without it you don’t know how far and fast you are going.  You need it to track the health of the cars and when you need a tune up.

In youth ministry you need a dashboard for similar reasons, because you need to know:

What Are You Tracking?

This might be a question that makes you nervous because it brings up the numbers game; however, it’s more than that.  Knowing what you are tracking means you are keeping track of the health of your ministry.  Therefore, you need to be tracking:

Who Is Coming: Attendance is more than just a blank number, it can help us determine if we are tracking more boys than girls or more churched than unchurched.  Tracking attendance isn’t just counting bodies; it allows you to understand how you are growing.  Knowing who is coming will also shape the identity of your ministry.

Spiritual Deepening: It’s very difficult to judge a man’s heart (unless you are God); however, by tracking spiritual deepening you are looking at the ratios of teens that are showing up versus how many are going deeper.  Knowing the ratios means knowing that teens might struggle to plug into a ministry versus a small group.  This helps you understand the path you’ve laid out for them in your ministry.

Why Teens Are Coming: Tracking this question may lead to answers as simple as, “My friend brought me.” Or “My mom made me.” however, it will also show you your influence and impact in the community.  Do people know about you?  How are they learning about you?  Are you more present in certain schools, clubs or teams? Know this and you can make your impact greater.

Adult Influence: Tracking ministers might not be a difficult task because you work at a small church or there aren’t a lot of adults serving in the student ministry.  However, if you don’t track who is serving, how long they are staying, why they are leaving and how they got into ministry then you are never going to learn how to grow the number of men and women serving in your ministry.

Budget: If you want to protect or increase your budget you need to know where the money is going and even where it’s coming from.  Finances are definitely not the most appealing area of student ministry; however, it’s important.  Without God honoring stewardship it’s going to be hard to fund the movement you are trying to lead.

Whether you use certain software or a basic spreadsheet you need to be tracking the progress, growth and movement of your ministry.  With no dashboard you are essentially putting your ministry at risk of crashing and spinning out of control.  Talk to your leaders and take the time to answer the question, “What should I be tracking?”

What other aspects of ministry should we be tracking?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more about his blog Marathon Youth Ministry.



Helping students develop a desire to grow on their own is an important part of the discipleship process. Too often, youth ministries primarily encourage attendance at programs, which sets students up for a spiritual drift after graduation if they can’t find a “program” to attend. Here are a few ways to help students develop their own relationship with Christ.

Give them a book you’ve read.
Think about the books that shaped you as a teenager and find the equivalent today. Tell students the story of why this book was important to you and your faith and encourage them to take steps down that journey as well.

HINT: Avoid the temptation to assume the same book is perfect for each student. If you can say, “I picked this out just for you…” it will make reading the book much more compelling.

Issue a challenge that’s out of their comfort zone.
Owning your faith usually takes root when a student rises to a challenge. Want to see someone grow? Push them to participate in a missions trip a long way from home. Watch them grow raising the funds to participate, and enjoy a front row seat to the refining process as they get to push past their breaking point into a moment of deep spiritual cementing.

HINT: Again, a personalized challenge is stronger than a generic one. Seeing a pattern, here?

Read something alongside them and meet occasionally to discuss.
You gave one of your core students a prayer journal? Did you share a 1-Minute Bible with them? Read a copy of it yourself at the same time, and meet up a couple times to check in and discuss what you’ve been learning.

Equip your small group leaders.
Last year we did “grow on the go” tubs filled with a few resources for leaders to give out to their students along the way. A push for a devotional during a message is great, but a personal nudge and gift of a devotional from a small group leader is the best.

Live it out yourself.
If you want to help your students grow on THEIR own, model it to them yourself. So much is caught rather than taught, so frequently do personal “check ups” in your own life to make sure you’re growing, too.

How are you helping students grow on their own right now?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Developing a spiritual growth plan for students sounds like a great idea, but its execution can be difficult. I’ve talked to some youth workers whose experience actually rivaled an execution. But don’t give up–it is possible. Part 1 in this series emphasized creating a healthy ministry environment parents can support, and part 2 offered strategies on how to overcome the challenges in doing so. This post features many of the additional questions that arise from the process:

How do I generate an interest in discipleship?
You don’t. Only God’s Spirit can truly cause people to desire to grow in their faith. You can, however, whet their appetite. Cast vision constantly for what a faith-filled life looks like. The ideal examples should come from your team and others in your church. Tell stories of what God is doing in your life, but be sure to include plenty of failure stories. You want to give students a picture of what to strive for, but we all know you’re not a super hero. So let someone else massage your ego and help students know how a Spirit-filled believer responds to failure. Everyone identifies with failure. You want students saying, “God can even use him? There’s hope for me after all!”

What do I do when my pastor doesn’t like my spiritual growth plan?
Be careful on this one, from two perspectives. First, are you sure your pastor doesn’t like it, or are you disappointed because he/she challenged a few areas? There’s a difference. Second, use this as an opportunity to discuss spiritual growth with your pastor. Is there already a plan in place for the church? How can you support that? If not, ask your pastor if you can run a pilot program with the students.

What do I do when parents ignore my efforts to disciple their kids?
Parents want the best for their kids. That’s why they yell and scream and argue with referees at games. (Also likely why they may have yelled and screamed at you.) Don’t assume their disinterest in your program means they don’t care. It’s possible they just don’t understand what you want from them or their student. They might also be intimidated. While you’d expect parents to be excited to see their kids grow spiritually, it might also threaten them, as that’s one area for which they have no control. The best response is dialogue with the family. Find out what they think of the spiritual growth plan and whether or not they have feedback.

What is spiritual maturity?
Ah, an excellent question! Always good to define terms; otherwise, we’re aiming at a moving target. I’m a big fan of a book called Personal Disciplemaking by Chris Adsit. He offers the following definition for a Christian disciple:

“A disciple is a person-in-process who is eager to learn and apply the truths that Jesus Christ teaches him, which will result in ever-deepening commitments to a Christ-like lifestyle.”

I like it. Short and sweet. You’ll find a variety of definitions but for me two key phrases are “person-in-process” and “eager to learn.” We’ll never be done. We’ll always be growing, or have areas in which we can grow. But take time to identify the one or two or nine key areas you want to develop in the lives of students.

I’m the only youth worker. How can I disciple all the students by myself?
You can’t. Don’t even try. Love and encourage all the students, but focus on 1 or 2. Talk to people in your church. They may not be ready to commitment to being part of the youth team, but they might agree to invest in the lives of one or two students. Pray for additional teammates, and don’t be afraid to invite people you work with or live near to be part of your team. It’s not easy being the only person, but you’ve got a vital ministry.

There are many more questions to be asked. Is there a youth worker network in your area? Take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with like-minded people. There are more questions about ministry than there are answers, so don’t be afraid to ask them. And there’s never a perfect answer, so learn all you can, pray like crazy, and do you best. Thank you for your investment in the lives of students and their families!

Gregg Farah is the Student Ministry Pastor at Shelter Rock Church on Long Island, NY. He’s excited to be back in student ministry after his 7-year journey as a church planter in New York City. Prior to his church planting days, Gregg served as youth pastor for 9 years in the suburbs of Seattle, WA and Orange County, CA. Be sure to visit his blog for much more, including a way to help finance his new line of books he is writing!