Fall ministry season is upon us. No doubt you have started training volunteer leaders, communicating with parents, deciding what to teach on this semester, and planning for this fall’s special events and retreats. Despite the fact that you have had all summer to prepare, it just never feels like you’re ready. But in all the large scale planning and list making, sometimes the most important and often the most overlooked pieces of ministry are small nuances that not only make your life easier in the long run but help to create a more Christ-like community and a deeper discipleship experience for your students.
Here are my top 5 for this semester:
- Connect faces with names.This takes some work on the front half but can go a long way in creating a healthy community if you stick to it. Create a binder that is distributed to all your leaders with every student, some stats on them, and their picture. Students will feel automatically more connected, more welcomed, and have a greater chance of making youth group a regular part of their week when you and your leadership can address them by name.Think about it. Scripture makes a big deal about humanity being known by Him. Why? Because God knows that we need to be known. We need to feel like we belong and have been accepted. Knowing a name goes further than you might expect.
- Teach for multiple learning styles. By now you have developed some kind of plan for taking students through the Bible. At least I hope so. But have you considered how students learn or their attention span? And how technology is going to play a role? Successful teachers and communicators leave nothing to chance. Plan for it, or work with a curriculum that offers assistance. We all have the tendency to teach the way we like to learn. However, you will only reach about 20% of your students if you taught to only one learning style. Some students like just to listen, but others talk it through. You will have students that need an experience; some need movement, multitasking, music, or drama.
- Have a plan to go deeper. As youth leaders, most of you have a challenge that few have. You are teaching and pastoring freshmen through seniors and some of you sixth grade through seniors. There are massive intellectual and emotional gaps between these students. Don’t lose one group because you are favoring the other. Generally, we try and keep it simple for the young students or the newer to Christianity students, but as a result bore the juniors and seniors to tears. Then they find something better to do, and you have lost them.Challenge them. How do you ask? Have deeper discipleship groups. Give students the option to dig into other topics at a deeper level.
- Measure Discipleship. We talk a lot in youth ministry about attendance. After all, it seems like a good measurement for how successful youth group is. The more students you have, the more disciples that are being made, right?Wrong.
It is possible that an increase in numbers could be a false positive. So how can you really know if you are making disciples who make disciples? After all, isn’t that the goal regardless of attendance?
However you decide to do it, find a way to measure growth in discipleship. Without being overly analytical, you could look at student engagement in youth group, behavior at home and school, or attitude on the field. This is not an easy task and what it looks like will differ for every group. Test a few different ideas, see what works and what doesn’t and make the necessary adjustments. The more information you have, the better job you can do to tailor the group to fit the needs of the students God provides you.
- Find ways to train parents. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the responsibility to make students into followers of Jesus rests on the shoulders of parents. As youth leaders, you have been called to come alongside parents to help. Not do it for them. But for many of your parents, this kind of thinking is a huge paradigm shift. So they need your help.Provide plenty of training opportunities that are not going to disrupt their everyday life. Let’s be honest most parents are simply not going to use up another night at church. However, you could create videos, podcasts, and articles to be looked over when they have a free moment, or even in the car on their way to work. Get beyond the one-page parent guide that they never read. Videos and podcasts will give you real-time feedback on views and the ability to interact.
I know what you’re thinking. “Great ideas! But who has time for this stuff!” I would suggest that you don’t do them all, or even try to. Pick one or two. Focus, and do those really well. Once it has become routine, move to another. If you try to tackle all at once, you will most likely fail, and you will revert back to what is easy. But what is easy is not always what works.
I continue to believe that as youth leaders, you have one of the greatest and one of the most stressful jobs. You have been called to minister to students. With every passing generation, the challenge is greater, and the task is more urgent. We appreciate you and continue to pray for you as you walk with students and train the next generation of the church.