Here is a compilation of helpful youth ministry hacks. They are been curated from the ABNWT Youth pastors and other youth pastors from the internet. If you have something to add, mention it in the comments!
In September 2015 I switched jobs which, for me, signaled a new beginning. One of my key concerns moving into this new role was to become a better leader.
Previously I was a youth pastor, who led volunteers, who led students (2 layers deep). In my new role, I function as a leader who leads youth pastors, who lead volunteers, who lead students (3 layers deep). To take on the new challenges, I needed new tools.
But the problem with becoming a better leader is that:
- It requires brain space.
- It requires deliberate effort.
- It requires time.
Essentially, becoming a better leader doesn't happen automatically.
It's been a year since I resigned as the youth pastor of a local church in Calgary. I served that faith community for 10 years. Along the way, I collected a ton of great memories, lessons, and friends.
I'm now in a really fun role where I get to work with, care for, and train youth pastors. Recently, one of those youth pastors asked me, "Looking back at your time as a youth pastor, what's your biggest regret?".
Great question. But, I didn't know the answer.
For Jesus followers, it's clear that spiritual training is of greater value than physical training. However, just because one thing is not as important as another thing, does not mean that it is not important at all. My guess is that you get that. I don’t know any sane person who would say that exercise has no value. However, I do know many who, although believing exercise has value, still choose not to exercise. Pastors included.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that if anyone should be diligent about their physical health, it should be pastors. When I say ‘physical health’ I’m not suggesting that Christians need to develop Steven Furtick’s size lats or Craig Groeschel’s size triceps (although good for them, that’s a lot of hard work!). Instead, I’m talking about being wise about what you eat and drink and, of course, exercising.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2013-2014, 70.7% of adults over the age of 20 were overweight or obese. I can only imagine that number would ring true for ministers as well. In fact, I imagine that number would jump a few points for church leaders. The irregular hours we keep, the emotional stress we sift through, and the lunch appointments we regularly keep, all lend itself to eating a lot of convenience foods. If you didn’t know, those are bad.
For many youth pastors, volunteers are the greatest part of their job. That was my experience. However, the more I travel and visit different youth ministries, I've noticed that this isn't every youth pastor's experience. I've had numerous conversations with frustrated youth workers over their volunteer teams. Laments over spotty attendance, laziness, and overall commitment to the ministry are common perpetrators.
If you're one of the frustrated youth pastors, I want to let you know there is hope! It doesn't have to be that way. Here are three things you can start doing to change your volunteer culture and get more out of your volunteers.
showing up. Sometimes students leave for reasons that have nothing to do with your ministry: moving to a new city, graduating high school, wanting to attend church with their parents somewhere else.
Other times students just stop showing up for no reason at all (or at least it appears that way at first). A number of years ago I wrote a blog post entitled “8 Reasons Why Students Stop Showing Up”. The post gained more traction than any other post I’ve ever written. It went like this:
A youth worker once told me “if you can make them laugh, you can make them listen.” Games leverage fun to quickly gain relational access to a student. Without this relational access, it’s significantly more challenging to convince them they should listen to you, especially for new students. I operate under the notion that games are part of the toolkit God has given youth workers to advance the Gospel. Games aren’t the point; the Gospel is.
If that’s all true, youth workers should make a point of running incredible games! I get the opportunity to travel and hang out with other youth pastors and their groups frequently. Here’s what I’ve noticed: some youth ministries are knocking games out of the park, other youth ministries make me wish I was knocked out just being in the same room!
With that in mind, here are 7 tips for running better games in your youth ministry.
I remember when our youth ministry was launching a new type of event that we were really excited about. We had momentum online, my student core team told me about all their friends that were coming, and the event was an ace in the hole.
And then it happened. Canadian winter.
Two hours before our event, the weather took a turn for this worse. Blanket snow storm. Now in my parts, the weather is crazy unpredictable. So it’s always a challenge trying to make a decision about canceling youth group over the weather because things can change so quickly.
My gut was telling me to not cancel and to just push through and make the event happen. We put so much effort into this night. It would be a great opportunity to connect new students to our group. It would be something our students would be talking about for months.
So the thought of canceling was unnerving.
I'm a big proponent of splitting up your Jr. High and Sr. High ministries. I think if you can split, split.
There’s plenty of conversations that have taken place online about splitting up your Jr. High and Sr. High ministries (see here, here, here and listen here for starters). I’m super aware that there are some who passionately argue that there is too much age/stage segregation in church ministries as it is and this is an unnecessary division. The bottom line for myself is that there is too huge of a developmental difference between a prepubescent 12-year-old boy and an off to College 18-year-old girl. The age gap isn’t much, but the developmental gap is pronounced.
I’m also aware that there is not one right way to do ministry to teens. Each situation is unique and your cues should be taken from your environment and prayer (not from a guy on the internet). However, in most cases, I would argue it is beneficial for both Jr. & Sr. High students to split.
If you’re still reading, I’m assuming you either have already made this shift or you’re dreaming about it but not sure where to start. Here are three of the best practices I discovered when splitting up your Jr. High & Sr. High students: