You gave it your all this week.
You told the students to invite their friends. You hyped your new sermon series.
You had an incredible game with huge prizes. You brought in a really good worship leader.
And still, no one new showed up.
What’s up with that?
When your youth ministry stops growing, it’s likely that you’ve bumped into one of these roadblocks.
5 Roadblocks to Growing Your Youth Ministry:
Roadblock #1: The Environment
Is the place you meet with students attractive to students?
I visit other churches all the time. I want to know what they’re doing. I want to know what’s working for them. I want to know what they’ve tried that hasn’t worked. I want to know what their student space looks like.
I’ll never forget meeting with a youth pastor who wanted my advice. He called me because his ministry wasn’t growing. In fact, it was declining. I showed up and toured the church. Eventually, we arrived at the student environment (they called it “The Youth Room”).
There were 10-year-old posters on the walls, children’s Bibles on the shelves, and 15-year-old televisions on mounts. The stained carpets and window drapes looked like someone’s grandmother had gotten carried away in her crochet class!
I asked him if he thought the environment was attractive to students. He said no. Case closed.
Think about the “feel” in the room. More simply, is your space clean? Do things look neat and organized? Does it look like you’re ready to reach new students?
If you want to reach students, your environment has to be attractive to students.
Roadblock #2: You
Are you growing as a leader?
A growing youth ministry needs a growing youth pastor. But I know youth pastors who haven’t read a book since they left seminary. J. Oswald Sanders once said:
“The leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually will be reading constantly” (Spiritual Leadership, 102).
If you don’t know where to start, I recommend The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. He presents a variety of leadership lessons and topics in understandable and applicable ways.
Podcasts are another great option for busy youth pastors.
My friends Kenny and Elle Campbell have a great podcast called YMAnswers.
Another friend of mine, Jeremy Zach, just started a podcast called Youth Ministry Test Pilot.
They’re offering a lot of great FREE content and ideas every month. You should check them out.
When you aren’t growing, your sermons will be flat, your ideas will be small, and your students won’t be inspired. It’s just how it goes.
If you want to reach students, you have to be growing as a leader.
Roadblock #3: Inward Focus
Do new people feel welcome?
Youth ministries stop growing when they stop thinking about what it’s like to be new. There are a lot of churches who proudly claim that they are “friendly.” But there’s a difference between being friendly and showing hospitality.
Friendly churches are friendly to people who are insiders. Showing hospitality has to do with helping the outsiders feel welcome too.
Evaluate your ministry through the experience of a student or family who has never attended before.
What is your check-in / check-out process?
Let new families know what the program consists of, when it will be over, and how to pick up their kid(s).
Does a new student know what to expect in your program?
During the welcome time, state what will be happening during the time together. I usually say something like, “If you’re new here, we’ll be together for about an hour. Here’s what we do…”
Do your current students try to make new students feel welcome?
Ask some of your student leaders to hang out with new students and help them meet other students.
If you want to reach students, you have to make them feel welcome.
Roadblock #4: The Service
Do your services connect with students?
Every restaurant basically serves chicken, beef, and fish. On that count, they’re all pretty much the same. What sets restaurants apart is the environments they create (see Roadblock #1) and the presentations they make.
Your service is your presentation.
What elements are you including in your services? You want to make sure you include aspects of fun, learning, and inspiration every time you have students together. Too much of one thing is boring. Mix it up. Create excitement. Generate buzz by doing something unexpected and out of the ordinary.
This can happen through music, games, or speaking. Maybe you can use a fresh game from downloadyouthministry.com. Maybe you can close your service with a meaningful song. Maybe you can think of a powerful object lesson or provide a takeaway that drives your point home.
If you want to reach students, your service has to be engaging for students.
Roadblock #5: Parent Connection
How are you including parents in your youth ministry?
The average parent has 3,000 hours every year to influence their child. Meanwhile, the average church has 40 hours.
In my opinion, no group has done as much to help bridge the gap between the church and family as Orange. The idea is that when the light of the church (yellow) and the love of the home (red) combine, they create orange.
You want parents to know that you’re on their team. I don’t know of any parent who wants their child to make bad decisions, develop poor lifestyle habits, and dishonor God. But I do know a lot of parents who admit that they don’t know how to navigate this complex time in their relationship with their students.
Think of ways to help parents of students understand the importance of what you’re doing in your youth ministry. Keep them up-to-date and informed of what’s going on.
At my church, we’ve created a Current Series page on the website so parents know what we’re teaching and when. We’ve also created a Parent Resources page with links to suggested books, articles, and resources that can be helpful to parents of teenagers. If we’re planning a big outreach day, I email parents and let them know what we’re up to.
You’ll be surprised what a difference it can make.
If you want to reach students, you have to connect with their parents.
Is there a roadblock that I left out?
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