What does a successful, healthy youth ministry look like?
I've been looking for the answer to this question for the last two years, since starting a new youth ministry in the west of Melbourne in 2014. The truth is both success and health are defined differently by different churches and different leaders. It makes it very difficult to have one marker or metric pointing to the health of a youth ministry.
Through this personal searching and profiling, I came up with a series of 10 marks to critique my youth ministry against to know whether we are healthy and growing. In some way, I hope these marks are helpful for you and can start some discussions in your friendship circles and ministry teams.
Mark #1: The Gospel
When it comes down to it, the Gospel of Jesus is all we have in our tool kit to transform lives. What is the Gospel specifically?
- Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture.
- He was buried
- He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
- Jesus is alive!
The message of Christianity is not a philosophy for living. It is a message about Jesus and the events surrounding him. It happened in history in front of many eye witnesses. It happened in accordance with the scriptures prophesying he would come and die, be pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah chapter 52, verse 5) and rise again—defeating sin and assuring our salvation. It's the promise of a renewed relationship with the God of the universe.
Healthy youth ministries let this truth saturate every single thing they do, from the way they welcome newcomers to the way they teach and equip mature Christian leaders. They find every way they can to keep the gospel on repeat in their ministry.
Mark #2: Clear vision, mission and goals
In the first two months of building a new youth ministry in Caroline Springs, we spent a long process of working out how the church's mission and vision could be lived out in the youth ministry, as well as some introductory goals. We spent time talking with God and waiting on him, looking through the bible, looking at our context, and looking at our strengths and weaknesses to put together a strong step forward.
Many people felt we spent too much time strategizing instead of getting our hands dirty with the work of ministry, but the preparation you do on mission, vision and goal-setting is crucial. It allows a space for God to show you what he is calling you into and gives you a razor-sharp focus to carry it out.
Healthy youth ministries and their teams can tell you exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it, and the goals they are working towards accomplishing. If they cannot, they are in very real danger of walking away from what God is calling them to and never even realizing it.
Mark #3: Friendship
Youth ministry has always been about relationships and friendships. Teenagers who grow up will rarely remember the programs you run, the sermons you preach or the bible studies you lead, but they will remember all the times you showed up in their life. They remember the football games, the family dinners, XBOX tournaments, dance recitals, school concerts and before-school coffees. I know I do.
Healthy youth ministries are filled with leaders who open themselves up, walk into the messiness of teenage life and build deep and authentic relationship with young people.
Mark #4: Conversion
Much of the conversation in youth ministry in the last 5 years has centered on the pressing question of teenagers walking away from the church. Recent(ish) statistics in Australia point to almost 50,000 teens walking away from their faith every single year.
There is a very simple reason why so many walk away: they are not converted. They might be good kids, they might be smart kids, they might be kids we love and appreciate but they are not converted Christians and that is why they leave.
Healthy youth ministries preach, talk and ooze the Gospel to their teenagers, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans chapter , verse 16). Where the Gospel is preached faithfully, and God moves powerfully in the lives of teens to bring about full heart transformation, there will be no such thing as a nominal, cultural Christian.
Mark #5: Discipleship
Christian leaders have a very clear purpose in this world:
Make self-denying, cross-carrying, Gospel-heralding, grace-soaked-in, sin-repenting followers of Jesus Christ, also known as disciples.
In healthy youth ministries, 'discipleship' is not a buzz word but a lifestyle. If we don't do the work of equipping our teens to pray for their friends, share the Gospel, disciple a new believer on their own, or countless other actions that make up following Jesus then we have not done the work Jesus Christ himself left for us in the great commission.
You only have to look at the churches and youth ministries doing this work of discipleship well. They are filled with leaders who grew up in youth ministry, were saved in their teens and had mature Christians walk alongside them, doing the hard work of equipping them.
Make sure you check out my May column for part 2—the next 5 marks of a healthy youth ministry.
Jimmy Young is a writer and youth pastor from Melbourne who loves the church and youth ministry. This is part one of a two part series for Christian Today. You can view the full article hereon his personal blog, the Radical Change.
Jimmy Young's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jimmy-young.html