New Approaches for Student Ministry

Do you ever stop to think about how the 21st Century has affected youth ministry? Technology alone has altered the role of the youth leader - making him or her accessible almost 24 hours a day via phone, email, and instant messaging. Changing youth culture continues to force youth ministers to rethink their approaches to youth ministry.

Youth are being raised by "virtual parents" who check on their teens via e-mail, cell phones and beepers. Teenagers are being bombarded with so much information that they are placing more value on knowing how to access information they need than on actually memorizing it. Media and technology have profoundly influenced teenagers, whether it is the inundation of professional wrestling shows or the ability to "virtually" do anything.

As a result, many teenagers are losing the concept of permanence or the sense that actions have real and lasting consequences. To reach this generation, youth ministers may need to think about reordering some priorities in programming. Here are a few avenues of ministry to consider.

Family-based youth ministry

Along with age-separate activities, could some youth events include parents? What about a parents' night at camp or a parent-youth game show night at church?

Mission-based projects

Youth ministers and youth indicate that very little is as life-changing and long-lasting as going and ministering to others. With fewer churches sponsoring missions programs like Acteens and Challengers for youth, mission-based projects should be included in the calendar.

Coffee-house relationship building

There seems to be a return to the popularity of a place for teenagers "just to hang out." The dynamic of friendship remains strong even in an age of technological overload. When conversation is encouraged, interesting ministry opportunities result.

Purposeful evangelism strategies

A needed competency for the teenagers themselves is the ability to recognize "conversational cues" that signal that someone with whom they are talking is open to talking about the gospel.

Youth leadership in ministry

Teenagers know the difference between being patronized through youth councils that have very little impact and actually being involved in ministry to the point that they use their gifts. The willingness of the youth minister to let them fail if they do not follow through is key.

Obviously, there are things that will not change. Regardless of competencies, youth ministry is still hard work. It will still need adult volunteers to succeed. It will require passionate youth ministers. It will always be best if it involves families. It will be done best "on purpose" with careful consideration given to the "why" of each youth event.

Dr. Allen Jackson is the Associate Professor of Youth Education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has written numerous books on student ministry.

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