4 Steps to a Great Start in Youth Ministry

It's your first week at your new church. You've unpacked all your boxes and set up the office in a way that makes it feel comfortable. You've met several of the youth, a few parents, and are beginning to know the rest of the church staff by first name. Now you are sitting at your desk with a cheap promotional pen from some company and a notepad and aren't really sure what to do next. If this description hits too close to home for you, here are some tips to help you get your first year in a new church off to a strong start.

Step 1: Develop a Focus

Begin by working on the youth ministry's focus rather than youth ministry events. Many youth ministers, especially those new to youth ministry, begin by looking at the old youth ministry calendar, getting some ideas from some friends in other churches and then start to fill up the youth calendar with events. But event planning isn't a good starting place. Back up one more step: Think through first what you need to do to help your students grow into healthy followers of Jesus.

Step 2: Meet Everyone Involved

Sit down with your pastor and talk about the youth ministry. He has a vision of what a healthy youth ministry looks like. Hopefully, the two of you match up in youth ministry philosophy. But if you don't, start moving toward his philosophy, or make sure he is with you every step of the way in your planning. Have the humility and foresight to see that his years of experience may have taught him something about ministry in the local church. Also meet with your parents, youth workers and church staff to get a feel for the key issues your youth ministry will need to address

Step 3: Brainstorm What You Need to Accomplish

As you're meeting with all those who have a significant interest in the ministry, brainstorm around three areas every youth ministry will need to focus on:

  • What youth will need to know (doctrines)
  • Who they will need to be (morals/values)
  • What they will need to do (spiritual disciplines)

In each of the three areas, brainstorm all the things that your youth must be taught. There will be many biblical truths to consider, but narrow your list to the ones your youth will especially need to understand and practice before they leave high school. As you brainstorm, be sure to allow for free discussion, since there will be disagreement on the truths the youth ministry should teach and practice. Make the list as long as you can in each of the three areas. Then, when you're alone in your office the next time, put your cheap promotional pen aside, type up the list of priority truths and mail it to everyone.

Step 4: Follow Up and Start Planning

After your first meeting, plan a follow-up meeting to narrow the list to no more than 36 issues. When you finish this second meeting, you should have a list of priority truths the youth ministry will work to teach over the next three years.

Next, choose 10 to 12 items, a few from each of the three areas, for year one, year two, and year three. These topics now become the foundation for next year's events. Before you plan an event, have an idea of how it will accomplish the key teaching you're working with.

When one of the topics comes up in the Sunday School materials during the same month, teach that topic on Wednesday nights and maybe even Sunday nights. This will ensure that it receives special emphasis since it is a focal truth for that year. If you plan a DiscipleNow study or a retreat, don't just get the newest materials out. Instead, select topics based on the goals for that year and the best way to teach that goal.

So, as you're sitting at that new desk, keep in mind that God did not call you to a title or a church. He did not call you to an office or a city. He called you like He called the disciples. At some point you heard God say, "follow me," and today "follow me" means that you are serving as minister to youth in this church. God may leave you there for 30 years, or He may move you tomorrow; but for this moment, use these tips to help you find out how make the most of your time there.

James Lankford is a veteran youth worker and the Student Ministry and Evangelism Specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

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