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!)