“It takes a village…” is a well-known saying, often referring to raising a child. But the same could be said for doing youth ministry. You can’t do effective youth ministry without the support of your church, both financially, and spiritually and practically.
Not every church ‘gets’ youth ministry though, and especially not every church member. Even church leaders don’t always understand the kind of stuff we deal with in youth ministry. So what are some ways to build up that support in your church?
My first bit of advice would be to serve your church whenever and wherever possible, both personally and with the youth ministry. This builds up a good reputation for you personally, as someone who is willing to serve in the Kingdom and not just in your own little corner of it. But if you can get your ministry as a whole to serve the church, this goes a loooooong way into creating a positive image for the ministry.
Let’s make this practical with some things you could do:
- Make sure that the rooms you use in the church are cleaner after use than they were before. I would personally sweep and mop floors and wipe down tables and chairs, just to ensure everything was spotless.
- Get students and leaders to sign up for any event where volunteers are needed, e.g. church cleaning day, grounds maintenance, do the catering for special events, etc.
- Encourage, equip, and when necessary coach students to serve elsewhere in the church on a regular basis. I had many students serve in the kids’ program, doing sound or other technical jobs, on the music team, doing catering, etc. If the ministry leader isn’t convinced teens can do a good job, or doesn’t seem inclined to supervise and train, step up yourself (or delegate this to one of your leaders) to make sure your students will do well.
- Volunteer for the ‘crappy’ jobs no one else wants. I made a summary of every ministry leaders’ monthly meeting for instance, which no one else really wanted to do. I wasn’t enjoying it, but I’m a fast typist and it was a great way to serve.
- Come up with projects you can do with your ministry where you serve church members. Have students teach tech skills to seniors, mow lawns, clear snow, be a chauffeur on Sunday mornings (when they’re old enough and have a license, obviously), wash cars, etc.
Most people overestimate how effective their communication is. They think church members know what’s happening in the youth ministry, because they’ve talked about it on stage once and wrote a few times for the church newsletter.
The reality is that a lot of what we ‘send’ as communication is never ‘received’ by the intended receivers. People are sloppy readers/viewers who only read what’s relevant to them at that moment (and even then they may not remember the actual data) and who can ignore anything and everything that looks like it requires time and mental energy to process.
If you want your church members to learn more about your youth ministry, you’ll need to make it relevant to them and communicate in a way that fits the methods and routines they already have.
Let’s start with the latter. What is the preferred method of communication of your church members? Do they like to printed newsletter? Does the church website have a loyal following? Are certain social media channels popular? It may take some digging and asking around to discover how people prefer the information you want to give them. My church had a very effective news bulletin each Sunday morning for instance, but the website also worked well. Once you know, start using those channels for your communication. There’s no sense in tweeting for instance, when your church members are only reading a printed newsletter and vice versa.
Now onto the biggest challenge: how can you make your youth ministry news relevant to them? Here are some ideas:
- Subdivide your church in groups based on what would interest them. Communicate to each group separately on occasion. For instance, write a story from the perspective of grandparents, or share news that would be interesting for parents of teens. Next time, address something that would interest parents of younger kids.
- Try to make it personal. Everyone loves to read personal stories…very few people want to read cold hard facts and data. So share stories whenever possible, even if that means changing some details or omitting names.
- Share pictures whenever you can. You know that old saying about a picture speaking louder than a thousand words? Still true.
- Share your successes, but also your struggles. Show successful events for instance and highlight why they were so awesome, but don’t be afraid to share low points as well. We’ve had times where we struggled as a ministry, for instance because of a lack of volunteers, by students, or personal tragedies. Sharing these with the church encouraged people to pray for us and for the students especially.
- For some church members, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be a teen now. They may have a very negative idea of teens (they’re lazy, spoiled, privileged, etc.), so gently correct that picture by sharing real stories about your students’ personal lives. Ask your teens to share a little about what school is like, what their home situation is, or how hard it is to be a Christian in a non-Christian world.
- One thing to be on the lookout for is striking a balance between positive and negative news. If you only communicate when you need money or volunteers, or when you complain about something, you lack balance.
Most importantly: repeat, repeat, repeat. Sometimes you get sick and tired of sharing the same type of information, but chances are that you’re the only one since the others only read it every fourth time or so. So repeat anything that’s important a few times.
A third step is to connect personally with key members of your church. These may be leaders, but it could also be people who just have a lot of influence. This is a part of church politics not everyone likes, but it’s necessary. If you can connect well on a personal and spiritual level with key influencers in your church, you’ve come a long way in securing support for your ministry. Personal relationships beat formal communication every single time!
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One last bit of advice. Church members sometimes speak harsh words about the youth ministry and those are not easy to hear. But be prepared to be open to the deeper truth, because no matter how objectionable the method of delivery, it’s possible that there’s a truth underneath.
Take for instance the often-heard complaint that the youth ministry is like a small church inside the church. This can be so true—and it’s not a good thing. We can’t keep ourselves separate from the church, not when we need the church as much as it needs us and the students.
Another complaint I’ve heard is the budget for the youth ministry, which can be disproportionally high compared to kids’ ministry or other ministries. Be open to that criticism as well. Is there a grain of truth? What can you do to correct this situation, or, if it’s not true, this idea?
Hopefully these ideas will help you connect better and build up support from your church. For those who have done this successfully already, any advice or tips you would add?