[This is the eighth post in our series on Building a Youth Ministry from Scratch]
A big question many youth ministry ‘start ups’ wrestle with is this: where should you start when it comes to programs and events? Should you start with small groups? Something fun? Organize a big event?
In a previous post I mentioned the importance of engaging your first students. Make sure to start with something that fits their spiritual interests. But there are a few more things to consider.
Ask Your Students
Once again: ask your students. In his book ‘Youth Work from Scratch’, British youth worker Martin Saunders describes how he was asked to start a youth group. He immediately came up with the idea of a ‘sports evening for the football-obsessed lads’. Football being soccer here by the way, for the Americans amongst you 🙂
“Thankfully, I decided to meet some of the young people involved, just to gather a few opinions on my brilliant ideas,” he writes. Turns out, the ‘lads’ were sick and tired of football and the other ideas he’d come up with rejected just as easily. Instead, they proposed a weekly meeting in his house where they could ask anything—and all of them showed up, every single week. As Martin writes: “They had shaped it. They owned it. They committed to it. All because, by the grace of God, I remembered to listen to them.”
Does that mean your students get to decide what your ministry should start with? Nope. But they should at least get a say, share their opinion on your ideas, and influence the plans. Any idea you have that they reject out of hand, is probably not the best place to start.
Look at Needs
Another solid starting point is the needs you see in your community. What needs are prevalent amongst teens in your community? Where do they struggle? What are big temptations?
In a previous church, my husband and I started a homework assistance ministry, which drew many students from outside our church. It was a need that we saw and that we felt we could meet.
Another example I’ve seen is sports ministry, for instance a street football ministry (soccer again). This church saw many teens hang out in the streets to play football anyways, so they decided to start hanging out with them, play football with them and build relationships. It grew into a powerful ministry where they managed to reach unchurched teens. I’ve also seen churches start a skateboard or basketball ministry.
What’s Your Goal?
The biggest question however is this: what’s your goal right now for the ministry? Maybe you already have a formal mission and vision in place, in which case the answer to this question should be easy. You need to choose the event, program, or activity that will be most effective in realizing your mission and vision.
If you’re not quite that far yet, spend some time with your leaders and try to come up with some short-term goals. What would you like to see happen first? And what do you need to realize that?
Maybe you’d like to see the seven existing students grow spiritually. In that case, setting up a large event focused on fun would not help. But maybe you have six students who hardly know each other, so you want them to get to know each other better and build friendships. When that’s your situation, doing something fun together may work very well.
The key thought is this: whatever you choose, be intentional. Don’t start with something just because it sounds like fun or because you know other ministries had success with it. Look at your context and make an intentional choice to do that, which will bring the most fruit to your ministry.
How intentional have you been so far in your youth ministry? Where could you improve?