Guest columnist and youth minister Christopher Wesley shares wisdom about beginning or revitalizing a parish youth ministry program. Want to learn more? Check out his new book, Rebuilding Youth Ministry, published by Ave Maria Press. –Barb
We all know that the next generation is important. The problem is that ministering to them is messy because they are constantly growing and changing. But, the investment is worth it because it can bring your parish to a new level in growing disciples.
To build or rebuild a youth ministry you need a plan and like any plan you need a starting point. Whether you are looking to overhaul or are simply start a youth ministry program you need to start out with these five steps:
STEP 1: DEVELOP A VISION
A vision is a picture of what should and could be. Without vision you’ll wander around until you find burnout. To develop a vision:
• Start Out In Prayer: Spend time with God. Ask Him to reveal to you His plans for the next generation in your community.
• Meet With A Team: Sit down with your pastor. Talk with parents and teens in your community and get their insights and thoughts.
• Make it Memorable: Put it in language that is simple, memorable and clear. A clear vision creates momentum and investment.
When you find that vision share it, communicate it and make it stick. It will remind people of why what you do matters.
STEP 2: EXPLORE YOUR AUDIENCE
Youth ministry is more than reaching teenagers. It’s targeting the ones in your unique community. To know your audience better you need to ask:
• What owns their time?
• What demands their intention?
• Where are they spending their money?
• What opportunities do they have?
• What are limitations they face?
The more you know them the better you will be at reaching them. Youth ministry needs to be meeting your audience so that you can bring them on a journey.
STEP 3: START OUT SMALL AND SIMPLE
While events, and retreats can be powerful experiences they can also be complicated. Look at developing a program structure that is simple and start out with a small sample.
To be simple and small start out with a beta test group. Find a few invested leaders and students who will help you grow a program. Create a structure that is easy to manage and definitely simple to grow. Don’t be afraid to test a few formats out before settling on one.
STEP 4: RECRUIT AND INVEST IN LEADERS
You shouldn’t do ministry on your own it will only lead to burn out. The most effective way to get volunteers is by invitation. Once you have them you need to invest in them by:
• Sharing with them resources you use.
• Inviting them to conferences and trainings.
• Bringing them to meetings where big decisions are made.
• Giving them a piece of the program to own.
• Thanking them unexpectedly but consistently.
When you show others you care they’ll return the investment and expand your capacity.
STEP 5: BUILD A YOUTH MINISTRY PRESENCE
Fifty percent of youth ministry is creating a program where they can grow. The other fifty is showing them that they are the present and future church. To build their presence:
• Get them involved in the weekend liturgy.
• Ask your pastor to acknowledge them in the homily.
• Give them leadership roles amongst adults.
• Be present at your parish on the weekends.
Youth ministry isn’t just about investing in the next generation; it’s about investing in your current church. A vibrant and healthy youth ministry is one that will create enthusiasm and challenge older generations to grow.
Don’t be afraid to rebuild your youth ministry. Just remember it takes time, hard work and a few ups and downs. But, you can do it because God is on your side.
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Christopher Wesley is director of student ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. He is also team leader for the parish’s family ministry programs and serves on the pastor’s strategic leadership team. He is active with unCUFFed Ministries in Baltimore. Wesley writes the Marathon Youth Ministry blog, is the host of the weekly Rebuilt podcast, and writes content for downloadyouthministry.com.
Wesley has a bachelor’s degree in communication arts, electronic media from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. A native of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, Chris has lived in Tokyo; Hong Kong; Auckland, New Zealand; Cincinnati; and Baltimore. He and his wife, Katherine, have two sons.
Copyright 2015 Christopher Wesley.
Author photo courtesy of Ave Maria Press. All rights reserved.