Youth room. Church kids. Snacks. Games. Praise band. Youth speaker. Small groups.
How long has church youth ministry looked this way in America? I am 41-years-old and it’s been this way since I was in youth group… and possibly before. I was in youth group in the 90’s, specifically from 1990-1996. I have also traveled extensively and observed many American, church youth groups since graduating from Bible college, and almost everyone has looked almost exactly like mine did.
If your church youth ministry still looks like this, should it? Are you content with where it is currently, or do you dream of and pray for more?
Many, if not most, church youth ministries right now are in decline. A good number of churches have even decided against paying a full-time youth director. Middle school ministries are doing better, but high schoolers are checking out due to busyness and simply feeling too old for youth group.
Would you like to experience growth, both numerical and spiritual? Reach your community? See students embrace real, radical relationships with Christ? Watch them become disciple makers and world changers for Christ?
The following are five, strategic changes to implement in your church youth ministry this year to create a “city on a hill” culture that shines a light in your community, and not just in your youth room:
- DETERMINE WHO YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY IS ABOUT. Who is your desired target audience? Is it ONLY “church kids,” or would you like to see your youth ministry reach outside of the walls of the church into the community? My guess is that you would love to impact more than just the kids who attend your church. If not, this article might not be for you, because you might be more content than you realized with the state of your current ministry.
- FORMULATE A PLAN TO REACH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. (Step one might require talking with your church leadership and casting your vision. Based on how that conversation goes, step two might require a great deal of prayer and fasting for a shared unity of vision, or even a re-location to a church that shares your vision. Radical action is usually necessary and worthwhile in order to bring about great impact and change!) If your desire is for your youth ministry to transform your community, you’re thinking BIG and I applaud you, but you have to have a plan! Sit down with your youth leaders and/or student leaders and create a MIND MAP (https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Mind-Map). Use this exercise to determine your next steps.
- LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE IN YOUR COMMUNITY. It’s likely that you have already planned outreach or evangelistic events (ie. a Super Bowl party) in hopes of attracting students in your community, only to be disappointed with the end result. Students who have yet to embark on a relationship with Christ, will likely not join a church youth group which feels like a members-only, or elitist Christian club. It is much more effective to go to them! Find out the needs of the students in your community. Ask your local high school principal, letting him or her know that you are willing to help in any way. Perhaps there is a need for tutoring, volunteers for extra-curricular activities, help with repairs and renovations, etc. Start small and continue to ask for ways to help. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16, ESV).
- DARE TO LEAVE THE YOUTH ROOM. From where do you want the growth to come? If you’re dreaming of reaching your community or local high school students, you need to GO to them. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) commands us to GO in order to reach people: “Therefore go and make disciples…” A city on a hill does not hide!Dare to leave the youth room. Take your existing students and GO somewhere. Be strategic. Go where the needs are. Go let your light shine before men! A church in northeastern Pennsylvania skips church all together one Sunday every year to spend the day instead serving their community. Take your cues from the high school principal, teacher, coach, PTA president, social worker, etc. and GO reach your community . . . WITH your students! Make this a regular activity on your youth calendar!
- THINK LIKE A MISSIONARY. Your church may be your job, but your community is your mission/harvest field. Make your community a higher priority than it’s ever been before. Almost weekly in the news we are hearing devastating accounts of students being bullied, committing suicide, or shooting their teachers and classmates. The local public schools need you. They need your youth ministry. Most of all, they need the hope and light of the Gospel. Take it to them! Don’t expect them to come and get it. Go and make disciples. Do this and your youth ministry will become that “city on a hill” transforming darkness into light!
By Kristi Walker – CrossWay Church in Berlin, Germany