Young People are the future of the Church

For over 20 years, Youth Minister have been arguing that the youth are not the future of the Church, they are the Church of today. Frankly, it hasn’t worked, young people are still leaving the Church, youth ministry budgets are still low and staff levels have either declined or stayed the same. The “Church of today” mantra hasn’t worked. What if we return to the motto of “young people are the future of the Church” would it work any better?

Here are a few questions we might ask our Parish Council, Vestry or Elders board if young people are the future of the Church:

  1. Senior Minister:  if you had to recruit your next Senior Pastor, Minister or Parish Priest from within your own people, are you developing future leaders?  Do you have enough good Christian young people entering theological education so that your next Senior Pastor is a great God honouring leader?  Who is your Senior Minister personally mentoring to take over their job in the future?
  2. Youth Pastor: if you had to recruit your next Youth Pastor from within your own people are you developing young people who have had a positive experience of youth ministry?  Do you mentor young adults so that they feel supported enough to take on a leadership role in future years as the Youth Ministry Coordinator?  If young people drop out of Church between the ages of 10-14, perhaps the 14 year old who just gave up on your church was your future Youth Pastor walking out your back door.
  3. Parish Council: if you had to recruit your next Elders board, Vestry or Parish Council member from within your own people would it be possible?  Are there young adults coming through your church who honour God with their lives and in the future could stand for leadership in your parish?  If you are not forming young people in your church today then the future of your Parish or Church leadership team is not looking good.  Perhaps the young people sitting in your church today who are bored and making paper aeroplanes out of the bulletin are thinking the last thing they want to do with their life is serve the Church.
  4. Financial Partners: nobody likes to mention the fact that the Church has always needed, and will always need, people who earn income in the world and donate it to the Church.  Are you investing in young people teaching them to go into the business world and be the best they can?  Because one day those young people will earn a pay cheque and make a decision on how much they give to the Church.  If they skip youth ministry and stop coming to Church, pretty soon your church will have fewer and fewer financial partners.  Perhaps the 14 year old who walked out your back door never to return was going to become the key financial partner in the future of your parish.

If we truly believe that the young people are the future of our Church wouldn’t we do things differently?  If your church had to recruit all its future leaders and financial partners from within your church wouldn’t you take the young people more seriously?  It is my opinion that many churches don’t think the young people are the future or the present of the Church, they are someone elses problem. Many churches are doing nothing hoping that someone else is forming great leaders they can steal/employ years down the track.

Absolutely we should see young people as the Church of today, but if we are serious about them being the future of our Church then let us invest far more into youth ministry than we currently are too.  Please a comment or share your thoughts below.

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3 Questions to ask when preaching to teens

This is guest post by Michael Angelo Crisafio.  Michael speaks to teenagers every week through school retreats, presenting at Impact Leadership and through preaching at Grace Unlimited.   You can follow Michael on Twitter.  If you would like to write a guest post please contact Mark McDonald.

I believe the quality of the things that you do is going to largely depend on the quality of questions you ask yourself.

When it comes to preaching to youth and in particularly school aged teenagers, it’s really going to be like herding cats if you are not going to ask the Holy Spirit to be with you daily.

In my time this year speaking to thousands of kids in schools all over Australia both in secular capacity, teaching out of bible based leadership principles or directly as a school based retreats speaker and facilitator there are some questions that I always ask myself when I preach.

  1. Who are you? your identity is largely linked to the quality of what you will delivering. are you a person of prayer? are you a person of action. Living out the Gospel is just as important as knowing the Gospel and when you can start seeing that in your own life others will see it too.
  2. What’s your story? Your preaching will come alive when it’s personal; when it’s a story only you can tell.  Teens love stories! You don’t have to look far to see what you’re competing with the likes of Twilight and 140 characters of conversation. It’s said that humour is a universal language and it’s always good to tell stories which bring out passion and humour; focus on things that people can all agree on – like sacrificial love.
  3. What does the bible have to say about it? The mysteries of the bible are as real and true and powerful today as they were 2000 years ago. Ancient rabbis talked of it like an any-sided gem, that when you hold up to the light a unique reflection is cast.  Teens want to know that the bible is relevant; as a matter of fact I make it my personal responsibility to allow people to see that connection as much as possible. If you don’t tell them, then the trash magazines, their friends or social media will tell them.

Please leave a comment about the tips you have for preaching to teens.

Are Ken Moser and Tim Hawkins similar or opposite?

Recently I attended a training day with Tim Hawkins where he encouraged youth ministry leaders to preach the Gospel, break open the Word with young people and see discipleship as the key.  Then I attended a lecture with Ken Moser where he suggested that we should do Christian things in youth ministry such as preach the Gospel and break open the Word.  Whilst I thought they were similar in their core message it surprised me that at least one training college sees the two as polar opposite models of youth ministry.

From my experience of youth ministry these two “experts” are in the same ball park, they are both focused on preaching the Gospel.  Sure they have had to differentiate their model, either because context or to sell books, but they are very similar.  When you contrast them to a Taize style youth ministry or social justice youth ministry, Ken and Tim are no different.  It is like Ken and Tim are different Rugby League teams with different styles of play but compared to Motor Racing they are the same.

In my opinion Ken and Tim support a “Jesus preaching, bible believing” style of youth ministry that puts them in the same group.  Your style of preaching doesn’t make you polar opposites.  Whether you allow fun at your youth group or you are more serious doesn’t make you polar opposites.  At this point I want to recognise that the two models are not identical, there are differences.  I just don’t think they are opposite models for youth ministry.

Why is this important to write about?  Rather than becoming a fan of the Tim Hawkins model or a fan of the Ken Moser model we should become fans of Jesus.  I know that sounds obvious but when we spent our time comparing and contrasting two models of “Jesus preaching, Bible believing” youth ministry we are no better than the people who spend all their time arguing of the virtues of the football team they support.

So having met Tim and Ken personally I like a bit of both of their youth ministry styles.  I like that they point young people to Jesus and encourage leaders to break open the Word of God.  I will continue to learn from both men as I grow youth ministry in my context, I hope you can too.  Learn from both styles of youth ministry rather than picking one over the other.

Are Australians ahead of America in ministry?

I have just walked out of the Peter Corney Lecture at Ridley College in Melbourne where Ken Moser addressed the gathering with a few observations about the Youth Ministry landscape.  If you don’t know who Ken Moser is, he is an American who came to Australia, worked here in a number of settings and now works in Canada.  He has written many good books from his time in Australia which have that Australian attitude of doing stuff that works.

Whilst I can’t quote Ken word for word I want to share a thought with you all from his talk but here are few points to keep in mind:

  1. Traditionally Australians have looked to American for the Youth ministry model, bought the books and hired them as guest speakers as “the expert”.
  2. The key American practitioners are all writing that the youth ministry model is no longer working as the society becomes increasingly post Christian.
  3. Australia was never as Christian as America
  4. Australia moved into a post Christian society 10-20 years ago depending on the view point you take.

So here is the big idea:

Why are we looking to America who is 20 years behind us for what is coming next?

Whilst I can’t remember the exact wording, Ken is suggesting that in fact Australia should and can lead American youth ministry to what comes next.

After the lecture I had the privileged of taking to Peter Corney himself, who started ministry in 1960 and has influenced youth ministry in Melbourne.  His perspective was that ministry has always changed and evolved similar to the down turn in the great Sunday School movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

So whilst I usually like to blog with you about a solution, tonight I thought I would share with you these thoughts and admit that I am as keen as ever to work with other Aussies to think though what’s next.  So please leave a comment to add to the conversation about what comes next.

Don’t get trapped within a Youth Ministry Cohort

Have you ever had a bumper group come through your youth ministry?  I mean a group that is firing on all cylinders.  This group volunteers for everything, invite their friends, engage in worship, pray regularly, take an active interest in the youth ministry and everything is going very well.  These can be the golden years or dream years for the youth ministry.  You seem to connect with this group, you make friends more easily and they really seem to understand you.  In simple terms a cohort is a group like this that moves through your ministry in a group, they join and leave together.

Leading this cohort in youth ministry is what we dream of, it makes it worthwhile.  But the trap is that this group grows up and moves out of your ministry into the next group, which you don’t lead.  Perhaps you have never seen this happen, maybe you have.  In the youth group that I attended, the dream cohort were finishing up just as I joined.  It seemed that just after I joined everyone got too old for the group and left, leaving all of us a little deflated.  In fact these dream cohorts can create such a bubble in a group that when it bursts, they all leave, the group can’t go on.

Recently I put this question to Tim Hawkins from St Paul’s at Castle Hill.  Whilst Tim has been in Youth Ministry for a long time, he has led cohorts through St Paul’s for 18 years, so I thought he would have experience in this area.  Well Tim’s advice was really really simple.  He said:

“You gotta keep thinking of who is coming next”

Sounds so simple that everyone would do it.  But here are several practical tips that Tim mentioned:

  • People in Children’s ministry should keep an eye on birth announcements, these are the couples who will be bringing their kids to children’s ministry in a year or two.
  • People in Junior high ministry should be looking at the years 4,5,6 who are getting bored in the children’s ministry and are ready to move on.
  • People in Senior high ministry should be looking for the next Senior who can learn to lead at their youth ministry nights and be trained to run small groups.

Whilst we are all tempted to look for a complex plan, it seems from Tim Hawkins that it is as simple and as complex as keeping ahead of the game.  It might be hard and repetitive work but the alternative is having to rebuild your ministry from scratch every time a dream cohort leaves.  So who is coming next in your ministry?  Do you need to start recruiting for the ministry below you in the age cycle so you have a pipeline coming into your ministry?

What are your youth ministry tips for avoiding “Cohortism”?

Burn out in Youth MInistry

Burning out vs Natural turnover in Youth Ministry

Burn out in Youth MInistry

Is it Burn out or Natural turn over in Youth Ministry?

In Youth Ministry it seems that leaders turn over every 2-3 years, if a church is lucky they may get 4 or 5 years before changing leaders.  Whilst there are many youth ministry veterans who promote the value of long term tenure, it seems that 10 year veterans are rare in our industry.  It made me think about the difference between turn over and burn out.  Is burn out being disguised as natural turn over?  Are some people leaving youth ministry because their time is up or do they burn out but call it turn over?  Could some leaders go on longer if there was more support?

These thoughts started when a friend asked me if I was burnt out or just needed to move on from my last position.  In some ways it was a bit of both.  After 5 years it was getting time to look for a new challenge but I was also finding it hard to recharge my energy levels.  This friend has seen many leaders in youth ministry burn out, yet she said that often people dismiss it by saying they were “getting too old for youth ministry”.

So how can we spot the difference between natural turn over and real burn out?  Here are a few thoughts from my experience:

Turnover:

  • You can choose when to leave – it is a great freedom to be able to choose when you finish up in a leadership position.  For example when I got engaged I turned over my leadership to a new leadership team because I felt the team was in good hands and I need to start a new journey.  Another time I turned over my leadership position after I finished a two year project and it was time for a younger leader to have the opportunity I had.  Natural turn over often happens when the time seems right for both the ministry and the individual.
  • You leave with energy for the next ministry – it is a great blessing to finish one ministry and move into another ministry.  It is a great thrill when a youth leader finishes up with the youth ministry because they are taking on a ministry in the adult congregation.  I remember leaving my church council to begin an outreach ministry and I left with so much energy and wisdom from the church council.  Natural turn over often happens when a person is passionate about moving on to another ministry.

Burnout

  • You leave later than you should – it is easy in sport to see when someone retires one season too late.  They say a person should retire at the top of their game.  Yet in youth ministry people often hang on a season too long because there is no replacement.  We can stay in ministry one season too long because we have no transition plan.  I stayed in one ministry for too long because I wanted stability and was scared to face change.  People often burn out because they feel guilty about leaving until it is too late.
  • You leave without any energy – Sometimes we stay on too long in a ministry and we quit because we are exhausted.  When a person finds it hard to begin a new season and lacks the energy to begin again they are burnt out.  People often burn out when they run out of energy from trying too hard.

Is burn out just part of youth ministry?  Whilst I would like to say it shouldn’t be, burnout is all too common in our industry.  Burn out should not be an occupational hazard, it should be avoided.  I think we should celebrate Natural turn over in youth ministry rather than hiding it when leaders leave.  Natural turn over role models healthy behave.  It encourage people to be healthy enough to choose when they leave and allows them to start a new ministry with energy.

Please leave your thoughts on burn out and turn over

Why a parachurch may get more young people than your church

In a recent post I wrote about the 10% limit to the size of any youth group compared to the Sunday congregation.  But I bet that some of you know a youth ministry that breaks that 10% rule.  What I have discovered is that some parachurch groups are able to recruit far more members than the 10% limit.  Having worked in and with parachurch groups, there are a few key factors which enable them to reach more young people than a local church can.

Firstly what do I mean by a parachurch group?  In this context I am talking about any agency within the Church that has a specific mission to minister only to young people.  Put it another way I am talking about ministries that don’t belong to “full service” local churches.  These parachurch groups have the specific mission of meeting the needs of young people and usually they have a particular style.  These groups are a valuable part of our Church; they have a specific Charism to a specific group of people.

A few examples might be:

  1. Charismatic prayer groups
  2. Campus based ministries
  3. Market place ministries, some that meet in Pubs
  4. Social Justice groups

So why are some parachurch groups able to recruit more members than many local churches? Here are four reasons that a parachurch group might be able to get more young people than you.

  1. Narrow the focus – many parachurch groups are able to focus on one or two key activities and do them well.  When a ministry only has few things to focus on they are able to tailor everything in the ministry to these one or two activities.  In contrast a full service local church has about 20-30 groups and ministries running.  Often the resources of a local church are spread thinly across a wide range of activities.
  2. Like-minded people – there is an old saying that like attracts like; a parachurch can attract young people with a common interest.  It is easier to attract a group of like-minded people than it is to keep the interest of everyone.  Often the local church is trying to cater to the needs of everyone in their community.
  3. Independence brings freedom – many parachurch groups are able to stay independent of the mechanics of regular church councils and committees.  I was once part of a parachurch group that met every Monday night and we could plan what we wanted with the leaders whenever we needed.  In contrast when I was part of full service local church the parish council met monthly and you needed a months’ notice to get an agenda item on there, meaning it could be two months before we could make a decision.
  4. Larger drawing area – usually a parachurch will draw members from a bigger geographical area than the local suburban church.  A parachurch might host an event for 100 young people that come from 10 suburbs where as you are trying to host an event for the young people in your suburb.

Before finishing I want to add that I am not against parachurch groups, they are vital part of the Body of Christ.  Given that I have been a part of both parachurch groups and local churches, I wanted to pass on some of the reasons why the parachurch groups might get more young people than you can get at your local church.

There are many positives of connecting young people to a local church; the main reason is that the local church is intergenerational.  In a local church young people learn to connect with a wider experience of the Body of Christ.

The real lesson for both parachurch groups and local churches is to focus on what God has called them to do rather than comparing each other.  I hope this helps you in your situation.

Please leave a comment

Is your Youth Ministry limited to 10% of Sunday attendance?

Whilst it has been popular over the past 20 years to say “it is not about the numbers”, many of us still measure our success in terms of attendance.   In a previous post I wrote about the difference between attendance and commitment so I know that attendance can be deceptive.  However many of us are judged by others based on how many people we get to our events, so let’s take a deeper look at attendance numbers.

What attendance number are you aiming at in your youth ministry?  How big would your ministry have to be to think it is successful?  Pick a number:

  1. A youth ministry will only grow to about 10% of your Sunday congregation (see Mark DeVries below).  Does the number in your head now look small, achievable or unrealistic?  A church with an average weekend attendance of 500 people should have a youth ministry of up to 50 young people.  But if your weekend church attendance is only 150 then perhaps you should be aiming to reach 15 young people.   So when you compare the size of your ministry to the youth ministry in another church, we all do this, you should compare the two groups as a percentage of the Sunday attendance.
  2. Successful youth ministries come from successful churches.  On the flip side there aren’t many weak churches that have strong youth ministries.  Perhaps your ministry is growing or not growing because of issues in the Sunday congregation.  If you find it hard to grow your youth ministry this may not be because of the issues in your youth ministry.  Check the health of your Sunday congregation to see if this is effecting the health of your youth ministry.  For example if your Sunday congregations don’t volunteer, then that may explain why you find it hard to recruit volunteers.
  3. In the post Christian era, young people are the first group to leave a struggling church and the last group to return to a growing church.  Often when the teenagers stop coming to church because it is “boring”, the parents stop coming as well.  Perhaps the reason that you are not growing is that the young people have sensed that the church is going nowhere.  Many churches that struggle for some time lose all their young people.  It can be difficult for these churches to win back the teenagers and they can’t grow a youth ministry until the children in the kids ministry grow into the youth ministry.

Mark DeVries in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry outlines five key “normal” indicators that he has discovered from his Youth Ministry consultancy with hundreds of churches in the US:

  1. A youth ministry will settle at 10% of the worshiping congregation
  2. The Youth Ministry budget should be $1000-$1500 per young person
  3. There should be one full time staff person for every fifty youth
  4. There should be one adult volunteer leader for every five youth
  5. Even with significant investment a youth ministry has a ceiling of 20% of the congregation

What is a realistic attendance target?

Whilst it is hard to translate these “normal” indicators into what is achievable in Australia, we do know that many of the bigger youth ministries come from bigger churches.  I think the most realistic target for you to aim at in your church is:

  1. Start with at least one male and one female leader then add another male and female volunteer leader for every 10 young people.
  2. Aim for 10% of your Sunday congregation, when your church grows so will your youth ministry.

Hopefully our youth ministries can lead the growth of our churches, but don’t be disappointed if you reach a 10% ceiling, you are doing well.

Please leave a comment about what indicators are normal in your setting.

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