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5 Nights of Youth Group

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about youth ministry strategy. About two weeks ago I published an article on Asbury’s Seedbed which caused a lot of spin off conversation because I had the audacity to state the obvious:

The current bi-modality of youth ministry, one mode built around church kids and the other built around outreach, has failed to deliver numerical results over the past 20 years and which is forcing church leadership to invest resources elsewhere. 

If you want to see my thoughts about the reasons for this failure, check out the article.

But I’ve been locked on this concept for a while: Every youth ministry is basically built around the same one-model structure.

They do one thing (either youth group/small groups plus occasional outward facing events to bring new people in) pretty well, but it’s impact is known and finite. It is going to reach a certain circle of people in a community and no matter how much harder you try or how much you refine it, you’re never going to really “pop” and see hundreds/thousands of students impacted.

And no one in youth ministry is satisfied with the numerical result. I know it’s hard to quantify the value of impact. And I know that relationships are priceless. But people want to get paid and to get paid you better have some numbers. (Your paycheck is a number, by the way.) All I’m saying is that 5%-10% youth engagement in a community isn’t enough. We can and must do better to see community transformation.

So, to recap.

  • On one hand we can agree that the current modes we do are going to reach a limited number of teenagers in a community. Only a certain number of people will be interested in the mode  your youth ministry is built upon.
  • On the other hand, we’ve been training people to “do youth group” or small groups for 30+ years. It might not be perfect, and it might not be reaching a statistically huge amount of people in a community, but it’s what we know how to do and it is functionally working. (It’s not broken, it doesn’t suck, it’s just fixed in its numerical  impact.)

Last night, all of that lead to this simple thought: Why don’t we just do what we’re good at… just more of it? 

  • What if youth group happened 5 nights per week, same program flavored 5 different ways?
  • To give you some for instances by inserting some flavors… What if Monday was for band/choir people? What if Tuesday were for people into R&B/rap? What if Wednesday night was in Spanish? What if Thursday night were for all the sports teams? What if Friday night were for the church kids? 5 nights, same content, different flavor.
  • What if volunteers served 2 nights in a row. Let’s say Monday was the night they helped with band/choir people, but Tuesday night they did follow-up… like, not at the church?
  • What if we stopped trying to make every student fit into one youth group and just gave them flavors they already sub-divide in?
  • What if we stopped asking youth ministry staff to hold business hours and just had them come to work 1-9 PM so they could prep and do what they do best without all the pretending to be office rats?

OK, so that’s my off-the-wall idea for a Tuesday.

I think there’s a lot of people asking the question, “What’s the future of youth ministry?” And I think it’s time we embraces the reality that there are probably a lot of futures of youth ministry. Looking for a single, silver bullet solution, will only lead you to angst. Instead, let’s encourage one another to drink deeply from the well of ethnography and create ministries & programs which serve  the needs of our students. (No more felt needs!)

Photo credit: Open 24 hours by Eric Auchard via Flickr (Creative Commons)

13 Responses to 5 Nights of Youth Group

  1. Mike June 19, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    I absolutely agree with you when you say, “there are probably a lot of futures of youth ministry.” I feel great about the future of ministry I’m in and love to try new things and ideas.

    My counter point to your idea of different flavored youth groups: What happens to those students when they graduate and find that church isn’t catered to their preferences? How much should we stress that church is about broken people, from all walks of life, coming together as one body to worship God?

    As a complete aside, I enjoy your blog more than most because half the time I’m in complete agreement, and the other half of the time I could disagree more, but it makes me think! So, thanks for the blog and your crazy ideas, Adam!

    • Adam McLane June 19, 2012 at 7:20 am #

      this is definitely in the crazy idea category. 

      its built on the simple idea: do more of what you love.

  2. sara lamb June 19, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    I’m all for thinking outside of the box but from a small town, smaller church perspective it would be impossible to do youth group 5 days a week. The school is already fractured into different cliques. I’d rather try to find unity and a way to connect kids across those lines, though honestly most of the students I see fit into more than one group anyway.

    That said, I like the idea of a 1-9 work day mentality. I think it’s important to connect with youth more than just Wednesday nights. The best way for me to do that is to figure out where they are when they’re not at youth group or church and just go there. I can wait around for kids and youth to show up at my church or I can go find (uncreepy) ways to be a part of their community.

    • Adam McLane June 19, 2012 at 8:06 am #

      Not critiquing, just pushing back a bit on this:
      “I’d rather try to find unity and a way to connect kids across those lines”

      How is that working for you? Great Gospel idea. But I don’t see “one-size fits most” working in a lot of cultures. Instead, trying to mix everyone together really means you reach almost none. 

      Ethnography. Ethnography. Ethnography. Find out what’s really going on. Most teenagers will say that no adults truly listen to them or get them. Let’s be those people who make the time to not just ask questions, but observe, take notes, and sit with our teams to figure out what is what. 

      In the seedbed article I labeled this “amissiological approaches.” 

  3. jen m June 19, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    What if we just get rid of youth group all together and just go live life with students. be around what they’re doing rather than create another thing for them to come to, and intentionally disciple them with our lifes. let the “gatherings” grow organically out of relationship. so take your model and instead of creating an event, monday go hang out with the band kids at their practice, tuesday go to a soccer game etc… I used to do bible study with a group of goth kids after school at quiznos because I had gotten to know a few kids in their group on campus, they came to camp with me, and wanted to keep having “cabin time”. I think you’re right that the paradigm of traditional youth ministry isn’t working. I’m not sure doing MORE of what’s not working is the answer.

  4. TJ June 19, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    I think the 5 night/different flavor could work as a outreach, as a way to draw new students. Do it this way for a week or two then transition back to “one” youth group. Maybe do this twice a year and get all of your students and leaders involved. Kinda like a mini youth revival. Just my thought on how to make this work in even the smaller churches and communities.

  5. Chris Lema June 19, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    My family moved to north San Diego a little over a year ago after a two-year look at 10 cities across the country (as we could live anywhere for my job). One of the biggest reasons was to engage ministry at a church called North Coast (in Vista). They hold some 36 services a weekend, including 4 or 5 at the same time (on the same campus). The message is the exact same one. But the worship in each space is completely different – from hard rock, to contemporary, to hymns, to country to a little more funky. There’s even a venue that doesn’t have worship – just the message. All running at the same time. And the model works – not only are something like 9,000 people served, but they’re all walking around campus with Bibles (not just spectators). I think your idea isn’t as crazy as it initially sounds.

  6. Luke McFadden June 20, 2012 at 6:16 am #

    I like the idea of more time with students, and different breakdowns of students. But 1-9 mon – fri just killed my family. We’re splitting our middle and high school this year, contemplating on doing it on different nights. But one of the bigger changes we’re chewing on is a daily face 2 face for a small pilot group of youth. 5 minute devo from a passage of a book of the bible we’sre reading through, with a 5 minute discussion and reflection. I’d much rather increase the consistency and amount of time with each student willing to go deeper, than go so big and wide that transformation is t happening. Not saying that It wouldn’t with the model you propose, just thinking for our context this is what we’re going to try. Maybe via ustream or google handouts. Then, after school and before bed, they answer some community discussion board type questions of a group text to bring the day to a close.

    I want to enable them to develop the space for God and his work consistently,

  7. Luke McFadden June 20, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    … Comment died. I wrote more about this approach here, calling it Alpha and Omega. Originally it was intensive on predeveloped material, but I’m leaning more towards live now. Password for vid is alpha.

    I just need to get families on board to help with the establishment of the discipline and commitment.

    Anywho, that’s what I’m throughout myself at for the next several months.

  8. Neal Watkins June 20, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Adam, thanks for sharing.

    Perhaps there is a compromise?

    We’ve had to do a similar approach with our program. We found with our scheduled worship, and our scheduled “youth groups”, we were only getting a certain group of kids – those available at those given times – which often reflected a certain “type” of kid based on their availability at that time (ie. not a lacrosse player, seeing as there was lacrosse practice every Sunday afternoon). In order to reach more kids, we had to add programming.

    However, I see it more than just convenience that we as youth ministers seek to unite kids from different backgrounds/interests to a common purpose in Christ. I see that as a very important principle of who we are as Christians. Everywhere else in these teen’s world, they are labeled, categorized, and sifted away from each other. Christian gatherings should be the one place where kids gather despite their differences. How else are we to model that God continues to reveal God’s face in one another?

    Maybe then, the solution is to make these different gatherings distinctive by their purpose. That way, kids could get together from different backgrounds and be surprised at who shares a common interest AND purpose with them. For example, maybe one night is a Bible study, another night is fellowship (I call it, “Forced Family Fun”), and another night is missions, etc.

    Nobody wants to talk about adding MORE planning, but I think you’re right. The future of Youth Ministry cannot assume that these students will come just because their parents want them to (because their parents have them enrolled in all kinds of other programs) or because there’s nothing else going on (because there is plenty to keep them busy).

    Providing more opportunities for different types of teens with different types of schedules could very well be our best way to continue to reach the masses! Thanks again for sharing.

  9. Brandon June 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Adam, I shared this post with my local youth network and got a really sincere reply, hope its encouraging for you and others. I know it was me. The youth pastor said:

    “This article stirred my heart this morning.
    Thank you so much for sharing! In all my years of youth ministry I have
    experienced flare ups of amazing growth and experiences. All seemed to be
    centered around one simple fact- prayer and opportunity are the most effective
    tools to those who listen and obey the Lord’s command.

    I am reminded of the YWAM and Onething
    ministries in Kansas City that proposed 24/7 prayer and worship and the ripples
    it stirred in the heavens as well as our culture. The ministry is impacting
    teens (and adults!) that are like the grains of sand on a beach and cannot be
    numbered. I was challenged last summer by one of their directos for special
    events (the power team and stunt riders guy)- He said, “imagine if your
    city had an event tonight and over 2000 kids came to Jesus for the first time.
    Tomorrow the enemy is waiting to steal their zeal. Would your churches be ready
    (equipped) to handle the discipleship of this mass influx? Finances aside-
    would YOU be willing to invest all YOU have into this generation?” After
    what seemed like an enternity of utter bewilderment and disbelief obviously
    written on my face, my buddy continued “Matt, THIS is HAPPENING and our single greatest challenge is not
    getting the kids to the events but being able to provide them a safe place to
    be discipled and grow afterwards.” Until now I can honestly say that I
    have been befuddled by this conundrum and felt limited both in ability and
    vision to be able to give a plausible scenario in which diversity could be
    accomplished to meet individual needs.

    Now the possibilities send chilling ‘glory
    bumps’ through my bones! I am excited to hear that the potential exists to be
    able to accommodate the needs of our youth beyond a ‘Sunday morning mentality’.

    I look forward to hearing more about the
    networks thoughts in this area and pray that the vision becomes a reality!”

  10. Josh Knierim June 22, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    IDon’t know if it could ever happen but if different churches with different flavors had their programs on different nights and could refer different types of students to whichever fit best, I could see some great reach. Would take some intentional relationships within the ym network.


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