As the church around the world continues to age, it’s clear youth ministry needs a boost. Church congregations are growing older, but young people aren’t filling in the pews behind them. While there are a number of reasons for this, a lackluster outreach effort from church youth ministries certainly plays a role. Most youth ministries are in need of some kind of revitalization. What that refresh looks like may differ from church to church, city to city, country to country, but there are a few signs we can look at to determine whether our ministry needs some TLC:
- All the work falls on the youth pastor. There are several reasons this is an indicator reform is needed. First, this means there’s a lack of senior pastoral involvement. Senior pastors and other high-level church leadership set the tone for the rest of the congregation when it comes to actively involving youth in the life of the church. If senior pastors are out of touch with the youth ministry — everything from the current programs and studies to the names and families of the students — youth will not have the opportunity to become vibrant members of the church whose contributions are valued and respected. To bring the next generation into the church family — and keep them — we have to show them they are wanted there. That can look like a pastor teaching a lesson at youth group, helping plan or host events for youth, getting to know them as a mentor or even simply knowing their names and parents’ names. Another reason this indicates a need for revitalization is the parents are not involved. Parents are a constant in their children’s lives, even more so than a youth pastor or leader. It’s critical that parents are involved in the spiritual development of their children, and keeping them in the loop on what’s being discussed at youth group, for example, can help them continue the conversation at home. Some parents may be tempted to leave it to the “professionals” — the youth pastors — but parents are the most influential authority figures in a child’s life, even for teens. It’s important that youth ministry is not treated as another extracurricular but an investment in their child’s spiritual development. Their involvement will mean additional volunteers and support, which can take some of the stress off youth pastors.
- Youth are not involved in leadership or decision making. As adults it can be easy to assume we know what will work best when it comes to programs, marketing and other decisions surrounding the future of the ministry. But who knows what resonates with youth better than the youth themselves? By involving youth on a higher level, you not only challenge them to take ownership of their faith and their membership in the group, but you get a better sense of what they want and expect from the ministry. Though of course it is not a free pass to run the entire program, you might be surprised at how seriously teens will take these leadership roles and what valuable insights you can gain from it. This also encourages them to be actively involved in their church family, which builds a foundation for church involvement and sustained faith long-term.
- Leadership is overwhelmed by events and programs. While events and programs are certainly part of youth ministry, they are not ends within themselves. Even more important than exciting events, games or engaging Bible study series are relationships. If the youth pastor or other volunteer leaders are overwhelmed trying to keep up with organizing, marketing and executing events and programs, it’s time consider streamlining. Focus on what’s most important. The programs and events worth keeping are the ones that foster significant relationships. Perhaps this means taking a look at the calendar and striking some upcoming events. Perhaps it means starting over entirely and brainstorming new ideas. Perhaps it even means cutting back to one or two events a year and focusing time and money on true discipleship efforts. Consider what’s most important in the long run and invest in those areas.
If we adopt some new strategies, listen to what youth need and want, and truly engage them in relationship, we can revitalize the involvement of young people in our congregations and invest in the next generation of believers.