Structuring Your Church’s Youth Ministry
I’ve been spending some time lately thinking about the youth ministry at Cornerstone. I have been involved with youth ministry about 12 years now, so I have seen several trends come and go. When I first started, in our area Wednesday nights were when all the churches focused on teen outreach. Schools in the area didn’t have late practices and they never scheduled any games on wednesdays . Time have definitely changed. Now it is really impossible to do anything youth group related during the week because of the busy schedules that our teens keep. We currently meet on Sunday nights for a time of hanging out and Bible study. We try to make it very interactive and really get the teens talking and discussing what we are teaching.
Since I have joined Cornerstone full-time, it has been a little interesting. Trying to do both “big-church” and youth has kept me stretched pretty thin. I know we need to make some changes in order to allow the youth group to expand and grow and reach more teens, so I have been really thinking about what to do in the future. For our church, I think the first change we need to make is to add a Jr. High group. I wanted to share some of the concerns, challenges, and solutions that I have thought through in making this decision.
Interaction between youth of different ages: Younger youth stay intimidated by the older teens, and the older teens get frustrated by the immaturity of the younger youth. By splitting the groups, you enable both to grow and learn at their own level.
Losing some excitement and energy by going to two smaller groups: My current plan is for both groups to meet together for any large-group games, worship time, and teaching that applies to both groups. Then, we can split up into two groups by grade, or even split up by gender depending on the topic for the night. This will help build relationships between the groups, but still provide them a comfortable and safe environment to share without embarrassment or frustration.
Space: This has always been a barrier from doing this in the past. You can meet at separate times, but then the parents feel like a shuttle service. And you lose the ability to do activities, worship, and games with the bigger group. Also, this requires a greater time commitment from volunteers. Finally we have a solution to this problem. Our new downtown facility has enough space to meet together at the same time and split up into smaller groups for discussion. This was never a real possibility while we were meeting in my living room.
Leadership Development: The final thing that excites me about splitting the groups is the opportunity to develop additional teachers and leaders for our youth ministry. This format will allow me to step back and not do everything for the group. I can still teach and stay connected to the youth, but it allows other teachers to gain experience, to build relationships, and to develop their leadership skills. If you are starting out in youth ministry, listen to me on this one. I speak from experience. DON’T BE THE HERO! You do more harm than good when you do everything by yourself and don’t allow any other adults to take part in student ministry. If the student ministry is built around your personality, guess what happens to those youth who you don’t connect with. They’re gone. And guess what happens when you leave … the ministry will die. By developing leaders you are allowing more opportunities for youth to feel loved and accepted, and other leaders will simply be able to reach teens that you cannot.
I’m excited about the changes, and now it’s time to work on the implementation plan to make sure this all goes smoothly.