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.

markoffaith mark of faith Mark of Faith

Sometimes in ministry we need to “Pay it back”

Have you ever heard the term “pay it forward“? It is a term that often gets used in ministry circles to encourage us to sow the blessings we have received from mentors into the next generation.  We receive so much from the mentors who formed us and we pay it forward to those that we mentor.  But do we ever pay back those who have mentored us with a thank you?  Ministry can be such a thankless task that occasionally we need to thank those who mentored us along the way.

Recently I was working with a great young leader, asking him about his journey of faith.  He had a great outlook on ministry so I asked him about his role models and he was able to list four or five men who had mentored him.  These were youth group leaders or young pastors in his Church.  It happens that I know some of these men and I bet they would love to know the fruit of some their work.  More importantly that experience made me reflect on the people who I needed to thank for sowing into me.

St Paul talks about watering seeds that other have planted and to recognise that God does all the work.  Sometimes in ministry we seemed to be doing a lot of sowing and watering without much growth.  In many cases we never see the fruit of our labour because God plants the person in another ministry or another church.  We can go for years without knowing what we have achieved.  If you find yourself in this situation here is three things to do:

  1. Create a culture of Gratitude:  instead of waiting for someone to thank you for your ministry, start thanking those who serve  with you in ministry.  Thank the volunteers who serve every week, thank those who pray for the ministry and thank those who financially support your ministry.  Don’t forget to thank the people above you, your Senior Minister, Parish Priest, Vestry, Elders board or Parish Council.
  2. Thank your Mentors: think of all the people who have mentored you and sown into your development. Write them a little thank you note, message them on Facebook or email them.  Whilst it is nice to send them a card, just thank them any way you can.  Often we still look up to our mentors and forget that they are real people who get disheartened just like we do.  If you appreciate your mentors by thanking them it will help them stay strong in their ministry too.
  3. Love your Family:  often our family are the forgotten heroes of our ministry.  Perhaps your parents took you to church as a child, supported your faith or paid for you to go on camp.  Maybe your relatives encouraged your development as a teenager.  Maybe your wife, husband and kids have allowed you to go to one more ministry event.  Love your family first and thank them for the support they give you.

We should take the blessings sown into us and pass it forward to the next generation.  But don’t forget to pay back the mentoring, love and attention that you received from others.  Learn to pay it forward and pay it back.

markoffaith mark of faith, Mark of Faith

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