Reviving a Youth Ministry - Part 2

Transition into Ministry Program


In Bill Gepford's previous blog the TiM associate pastor at Colby (Kanasa) UMC, shared how and why he started a youth program at Colby UMC. In this second of a two-blog series, Gepford explains the steps he took in preparation of the youth ministry kick off.

I arrived shortly before July 1. These are the steps we took between July 1 and August 22 (the start of school and correlating kickoff of youth programming). You can take longer or shorter for this, but I'd plan on at least 50 hours spread over several weeks for this.

Pray: This is the underlying foundation of all of it. If you aren't doing this, go find another job.
Seriously, there are other jobs for people who don't pray.

Determine the Team: Ministries are throttled by their leadership. If you try to do this alone, you will not go as far. Try to find a few who will come alongside you - people who are passionate about God and youth. We aim for a 1:5 ratio. Anything more than 1:3 feels crowded; less than 1:7 becomes unmanageable. I’d rather have a bunch of adults on standby than be unable to grow because the dream was too small.
 In that group, determine who will be responsible for what. Is this your baby? Is there someone who is passionate and would be willing to take over if you just provided guidance and mentoring? Get to know these people. Pray with them. Pour into them.

Research: This is where you start to find out a bit more about your community. If you have already been at the church for some time - great! That is a good start. But here are at least a few specifically youth-ish things you need to figure out:

  • Youth Needs: What are these kids concerned with? Some commonalities exist over all youth worldwide; some don't. Are your kids concerned with where they will go to college, or if they will? What issues are they or their friends facing - is it an occasional pilfered six pack, or gang violence? Peer pressure, or a place to belong?
  • Youth Rhythm of life:  What times are most free? What times should you avoid? Will you balance multiple school district schedules, or just one? Will you have to spread between tons of youth activities, or is there one big one (like a high school football game) that you can go to and see everyone?
  • Primary communication medium: Is your area more saturated with Instagram or Twitter? More about Vine or Texting? What existing communication mediums can you tap in to?
  • Youth and Parental Leadership: Who are the youth that everyone will follow - who can grow an event by 20% just by posting that they are going? Who are the parents who can stand up against the crowd...and get the crowd to follow them?
Craft the Vision:  First, you have to set out what it is that you are about to do. This is important - it becomes the key litmus test for everything you will do afterwards (if a program or activity doesn't fit the vision, you don't do it).  Do you want a youth ministry simply to babysit kids during church? Or so you look busy and keep your SPRC happy? Are you focused on depth for kids already in the church? Is this evangelism for kids outside the other church?
Figure out what you believe on your deepest level. Youth ministry takes sacrifice - what are you willing to cry and bleed to see happen?

A note on Visions: some people believe that this needs to come in a vacuum. I don't. Borrow heavily from people you respect. Don't be original purely for the sake of being original. Our job is to connect kids with Christ - not just make up things for the sake of originality.

Here is what eventually became our vision:  "To grow a Christian community where non- and nominally religious youth are connected with God and engaged in changing the world."

Test the Vision: Run it by people. Does it resonate? Do they get fired up? Are you willing to stay up late and sacrifice for this? Tweak the language until people (including you) want to follow it.

Shout the Vision:  Once you have a vision, you have to share it. But not just a simple, small share - this is not the time for timidity. This is not the time for an uncertain trumpet. Shout it as loud as you can.
          We are not going to try this out. This is not an experiment. There are times for those - but this is not one. Be bold, draw a line and have the courage to do it.
          A note on all that (and how I would communicate it) - if you are making a major change, it can come as a shock. Some people don't like change ... unless you do it right.
          My grandfather loves classical music - and thinks worship played on guitar is just noise that needs to stop. You know who the biggest advocate of a youth ministry and contemporary service was at his Church? My grandfather. Why? Because he wants his grandkids to come to church. We don't need a youth ministry to have a youth ministry, or because we want to have different music for the sake of different music - we need these things because they will connect with people in our community who won't connect with Christ otherwise.
          Communicating the why behind your change matters.

Set method for making vision a reality: Plan out your path. If your vision involves lots of deep discipleship (ours did), will that be something you can really accomplish merely through large groups? If it involves creating a youth ministry youth can invite their friends to, will you have games or outreach events?

Here is ours:  We focused on three areas to accomplish our vision:
  1. Invitational Events: Our vision identifies our target audience - non and nominally Christian youth. These aren't just the church kids; we want youth who don't know Jesus. So how do you do that? Throw events that non and nominally interested youth would be interested in. We hosted a fifth Quarter event after every home football game - delicious food, a huge game, etc. Parents loved it because their kids weren't partying and supported it heavily. Kids loved it because it was more fun than anything else. Let’s be real - you have the resources of a whole church behind you. You can make this fun. If you don't have the personality, find someone who does to lead the game.
  2. Engaging Discipleship - We ramped up our emphasis on Sunday school. Out went the old curriculum that took me an hour to figure out (seriously .... 9 different fonts and side bars and TRY THIS each page? Calm down curriculum writers). We simplified, streamlined, and adopted a few different curriculum options. I ended up writing ours; it took 45 minutes each week. If that’s not you, check out some better curriculum options. Want to know a good test to see if it’s current? See if they want to send it to you via website/email, or by paper book. Relevance is good (we eventually transitioned to use Sparkhouse and have been very satisfied). Then we added a Youth Group. Sunday school was the intellectual content; youth group was the passion. We chose Wednesday evenings from 7-8 (based on demographic research from earlier). Here's the rundown:
  3. 6:00-6:45 Band Warmup/Tech  Setup, etc.
  4. 6:45-7:00 Greeters in place, welcome kids
  5. 7:00-7:15 Welcome and Games
  6. 7:15-7:20 Transition and Opening Song
  7. 7:20-7:22 Announcement (Don't you dare spend 30 minutes here ... that’s what group text is for)
  8. 7:22-7:35 Worship songs (start with fast ones, like Rend Collective Experiment, and end with slower options).
  9. 7:35-7:50 Sermon (More on this later)
  10. 7:50-7:55 Prayer Time
  11. 7:55- Release (Parents like it when they can pick up kids on time; this shows respect to them and gives you a chance to follow up with your older kids individually if they need to talk
  12. Empowered Volunteers - both the volunteers who led in the youth ministry, and those who were Youth themselves. We took two mission trips our first year (one weekend plunge, one week-long immersion). We trained our volunteers - I have one-on-ones with key leaders. Why? Because they will make a bigger impact than you can, if you just let them. Swallow your ego and tum them into the rockstars.
Recruit and Train your Volunteers: This is huge. If I were to do things over, I would have spent 3-4x as long here. Check them, discern if they are the right person, and then support them as much as you can. Seriously. One on one trainings, group trainings, offsite visioning retreats - love and empower them however you can.

Establish your Parent and Youth Communication Plans: Youth and their parents use different channels for communication. You need both. Don't assume that your youth are reading the monthly newsletter...they aren't. Don't assume your parents are following you on twitter and checking every 3 minutes to make sure they didn't miss an update. Master communication with both. An easy way to find this out: ask coaches and teachers.

Secure Supplies:  Once you get to the point where you have volunteers and a rough outline of what you would like your events to look like, it’s time to start rounding up the stuff you will need for this.

Music and Tech: If you are going to play music, you need musicians, and you also need instruments. You may need speakers. All that is determined by the size of your group and the style of music. Try to choose a room that isn't so big that kids are wandering around wondering where everyone is, even if it is the only room that has an AV setup. We liked having a projector to display the lyrics to our songs.

Games - a few of our favorites are Ninja, Gaga Ball and Ultimate Frisbee. They take minimal resources and the rules can be grasped in 30 seconds. Acquire the supplies necessary to play a few games, and keep them ready for whenever the unexpected pops up.

Budget - These are great; I found I didn't really use mine the first year. If you don't have a budget, you can still have a youth ministry. [Note: if this has been your excuse to stop you from starting one ... come on. You are better than that]

Build Relationships: This is a great time to start building relationships as well - with your youth. Get coffee or ice cream. Cheer them on at sports games. Figure out who they are. Let them know you care about them. Let them see you pursuing your faith walk.