Reviving a Youth Ministry - Part 1

Transition into Ministry Program


Bill Gepford is currently serving as a TiM associate pastor at Colby United Methodist Church, Colby, Kansas (2013-2015).

Bill Gepford, TiM associate pastor at Colby (Kansas) UMC, shares how and why he started a youth program at Colby UMC. In this first of a two blog series, Gepford explains why he started the program and what he did once the program was in place.

My Story:

I serve as the Transition into Ministry associate at Colby United Methodist Church.  Even before I arrived in Colby, I got the sense that one of the deepest desires of the church was the reviving of their youth ministry.  After talking with Jim (my senior Pastor), that became a chief priority of mine once I arrived.  This was fantastic for a ton of reasons - I got to experience launching and taking ultimate responsibility for a ministry, I was able to serve in a felt need, and I had the chance to do all this under a fantastic mentor. 

I’m sure I’m not the first pastor to arrive in a church with a desire to launch a youth ministry - so I’ve written a brief summary and checklist of the things we did at Colby UMC in hopes that they may be of service to others.  This is by no means complete, and I’m sure I’ve left things out - but hopefully it will give committed people a good idea of where to start. 

The Why:

 First off, a bit about why we did this (and why you might want to as well).

Colby: One of the things I heard again and again was the need to include young people especially youth in the life of our church. There seem to be a very heartfelt desire for youth ministry, but a desire for energy and organization to assist with that. 

... But also every church: The church is for people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. If youth are missing, it gets noticed. There are a few things that youth are especially effective at contributing to a Church:

Energy: Youth bring energy (sometimes called noise) to a church. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Hope: Its no secret ... people eventually pass away. Your church wants to know that it will continue to exist next generation. Youth bring hope.

Change Agents: Youth are excellent change agents - they are a great place to try out new things (because new is exciting for them). Some of the best preachers in the world started out as Youth Pastors. Some of the strongest ministries in churches evolved out of the youth department - because youth are still wide-eyed, optimistic, and risk-taking enough to try out just about anything (Some adults fit that description too….and you should thank God for them and then recruit them to help you lead the youth ministry. That mindset in a Godly person is much more valuable than ‘being young’ or ‘looking the part’. I’ll always take a 95 year old volunteer who loves Jesus and is bold enough to take risks over a 20 year old who seems fun but isn't mature in their discipleship or willing to step out on faith).

... And all youth pastors: A quick note for those who don't necessarily feel called to youth ministry and therefore don't do it:

If your church needs it, get over yourself. Seriously.

Kids need Jesus and churches thrive on hope that they will still be there in the next generation. If your church can't afford to hire a part time youth pastor and isn't fortunate to have that amazing person who is willing to commit 20+ hours a week as a volunteer, then it’s your responsibility.

Kickoff Time!

Alright - once you have laid the foundation, it’s time for kickoff. We can't spend forever just building the frame; eventually we have to take a leap and do the exciting work of doing youth ministry.

Plan your first event: This can be your first youth group, or a special launch event - but make it big. Do things above and beyond the call of mediocrity. The bounce house may be optional, but it shouldn't be off the menu either.

Communicate (too much): Make sure everyone knows exactly when this is happening, where they need to be, and why. Communicate so that people actually want to come - don't assume they will just because the church doors are open.

Big Event as a Launch for regular Programming: Big events exist for a purpose - they create momentum for your more intentional, discipleship-focused events. Make sure you have a way to capture kids contact information when they come, and follow up with them after.
Regular Programming: It can be helpful to have a dry-run of your event ahead of time; have a few committed youth test it out so you can make sure you have supplies, the slides match the music, etc. Always be improving.

How we did it: Here’s a mistake we made you can learn from. I took a bunch of surveys over the summer to discover what (I thought) kids wanted to talk about. We ended up with a sermon series for our first few youth groups that absolutely tanked ... so much that the word why still feels like an inside joke. It was bad, y’all. Be prepared to ask for ideas from kids - but also to completely go in a different direction if your instinct tells you differently.

Debrief with Adults: Make sure you keep training, resourcing, and empowering your leaders throughout this. Take them out to eat afterwards and debrief youth group. See what they thought worked, what didn't, and what they are hearing from the youth.

Momentum Builders: Ever play Mario Kart? (Of course you did - you are still reading an article on starting a youth ministry.) Remember those little multi-colored patches that accelerate you? Have a few events that do that for your ministry. These are continued big events, lock-ins (if you don't like sleep), parties, etc., for kids that add momentum and give youth an opportunity to invite their friends.

Build to a Reward/Goal:  We went with a mission trip - give kids a goal to build towards. We knew we couldn't realistically take a mission trip unless we hit a critical mass of 20 - but we were open about that. Kids invited their friends and we had an awesome mission trip.

OK - so that’s a brief snapshot of one of the many things I learned at Colby thanks to the TiM program. I hope it’s helpful to you, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn those lessons.

Be sure to read Gepford’s next blog where he explains all the steps he took in preparation of the youth ministry kick off.