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”?


Would you do what you ask your workers to do?

There is a WorkSafe campaign on Victoria television at the moment with the slogan “would you do what you ask your workers to do?”  In each of the seven 20 second commercials a supervisor asks a worker to do something that is obviously unsafe and the worker agrees.  The point of the campaign is that workers are asked to do unsafe things all the time, just not that obvious.  Of course a worker would never do something unsafe if it was that obvious but what if it wasn’t obvious.

Check out the adds: Worksafe victoria

Whilst the campaign is frightening it drives home the point that we can’t ask people to do something that we know is unsafe.  One supervisor asks the young worker to work on a broken machine, another asks them to work in an inappropriate desk, another to fall off the back of a motor bike on a farm and another to work on a roof without a harness.

So it got me thinking about the situations which we ask our young ministry workers to go into.  Here might be a sample add:

Church leader: Will you work in our church unsupervised with no support but with all the responsibility, you will receive complaints from parents and church members, you will burn out after 18 months and probably hate the church for a while?

Young Leader: Sure

Church Leader:  Oh and we will pay you less than you would get at a fast food restaurant but work longer hours

Young Leader: Sure

If you think this is a far fetched situation then why is it all too common?  Why do we ask people to take on children ministry or youth ministry for 8-10 hours per week?  Many young people take on jobs in ministry for low pay with little supervision because we take advantage of their interest to serve the Church.  My hope is that we reduce the turn over rate of young ministry workers by putting into place support systems for our youngest leaders.   I know some churches can’t pay any more but lets give them the best mentoring and supervision available, lets disciple them like Jesus would.

Would you do what we ask young worker to do?

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:


  • 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.


  • 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