Changing The Influence of Your Youth Ministry

In 2012 I made one of the hardest decisions I had made up to and maybe even after this moment in my life. I left my first fulltime position as a youth pastor at the church where I had grown up spiritually. Believe you will find the post I wrote to explain my leaving as well as my heart for youth ministry. I pray this blesses anyone who is deciding to make that same hard decision

A month ago my wife and I made one of the greatest yet hardest decisions of our lives. We decided to not only leave our full-time youth ministry position but also our church of 23 years. Simply put February God came to me and instructed me that it was time to leave. It took me several months, three hospital trips, many meetings to finally make the decision to leave. So these few weeks I have been thinking over the last three years and have slowly put together what the time was all about.

As I begin to pray the Spirit of God has continued to show me two things. One the shifting sand and foundation of youth ministry in America. I have done a lot of reading and many people feel the same way. Two the slow decay of the influence of the church among young people. It breaks my heart that such a powerful body of people can be so weak in influencing its area of influence for the one true God.

I have felt for a while that the landscape of ministry was shifting from a stand up and preach to crowds model to more of a smaller crowd’s wider reach model especially in youth ministry. When I started full-time vocational youth ministry three years ago the youth ministry that I took over was in decline and had roughly 40 7th–12th grade students that attended a youth service on Wednesday nights, 4 small groups composed mostly of our own students, and a hand full of very expensive events.

The youth pastor before me who is one of my best friends was at the end of his rope and was feeling God’s calling out of youth ministry. The decline came with the transition of leadership not only between youth and children ministry but also in the shifting of leadership in our top-tier leaders. It took about a year and a half to transition myself into youth, the past youth pastor into children and a new executive pastor into his position.

Not only did this hurt the youth ministry but the economy crashed during our transition. So the youth program went from having a full-time youth pastor, a full-time worship leader, and a part-time youth assistant to just me. Not only that but the budget was cut into a third of the previous budget. Little to say somethings had to change.

Little did I know I was about to embark on the some of the hardest yet most fun years of my known life. I knew within myself that God was calling our youth ministry to make a shift from “Come to our stuff” model to the “Going out into the Community and Shepherding” model.

I proposed that we focus less on creating a light show blazing, pig-feet game eating, 5 min gospel teaching service and more on our influence into our communities. I proposed we spend less on 5,000 events and more on empowering our students to take their campuses by storm. Am I against awesome services…NO. Am I against amazing events…NO. Am I against losing an entire generation after their 10th grade year in High School… ABSOLUTELY…

So where do you start?? Glad you asked.

  1. Have an honest conversation with God about your current state and if it be his will for you to shift your ministry. I am not a one size fits all type of Guy.
  2. I suggest you also start by having a conversation with yourself. Ask yourself some questions. Make sure you bring your spouse into this conversation. What if I get fired or voted out? What if at first my youth ministry “Shrinks” in numbers? What if I stop getting invited to the staff and church member hang outs? What if you are attacked verbally, emotionally, or personally? Yes I have had all three happen to me. Is truly impacting the Kingdom of God more important or is enticing numbers by giving away a free Xbox 360 more important. Once you solidify it within yourself then….
  3. Clearly define the vision. What type of program do you want to have? How many people do you all want to minister to on a yearly basis. Our number is 1,735 students. Why so specific. I found out that twenty miles from the zip code of our church there was 17,355 students within 7th – 12th. Through prayer and direction from our leadership team we nailed down 1,735 individual students. Be specific and concise. Our vision is we are a youth ministry that teaches the truth of God, disciple students to live out this truth, and release in evangelism in our community to engage the lives of other students. No more, no less.
  4. Have a direct and honest conversation with your boss. Schedule a meeting away from any other distractions. Be prepared with whatever you need to have to share with them the gravity of what is happening. In Andy Stanley book Visioneering he explains that to successfully impart vision you must a. Define the problem b. Offer a solution c. Explain why and why now.
  5. Come up with a game plan that includes the input of your direct report, your closets volunteers, several parents, and key students. Don’t make this group to large. Clearly state to them the vision and ask for their input how to best proceed based on your community, church, and school cultures. Ask for their input into getting to the vision. No one can change the vision itself. The vision
  6. Plan to change things over a year to two-year process. 80% of people hate change. You will lose some naturally over time but you don’t want to do what I did and throw cold water on people.
  7. Consistently evaluate things based on the vision and not the program itself. The vision needs to be clearly defined that way you can judge where you are.
  8. Make sure that your direct report is in the know about everything you are doing. The best feeling in the world is when someone comes to you with a problem and you can directly them to your authority because they have given the ok. The worst feeling is having your direct report embarrassed or out of the loop. Heavy fist have been known to crack skulls. Always stay under covering.

So let me explain to you what our program looked like at the end of the school year.

  • Monday nights we had a Purple Bookmeeting at a local coffee shop called Bridge281. Purple Book is a foundational teaching curriculum that is amazing. Wednesday nights we have our High School service at the church. Our high school service is 9th – 12th. We spent 30 min in praise and worship, 30 min in teaching, and another 30 min in responding to God in any way he wants us to. We do things like stop and hear God, give your testimony to someone in the room. Faith steps.
  • Thursday nights we had a campus ministry that met at Spring Hill High School Library called NuGate. It averaged 30 students and we saw God work miraculously in and through that group. It was student started and it is student lead. Our team supervised and gives wisdom when needed. It had been written up in ourlocal paper and a local television has come and did a story.
  • Friday nights we had prayer at a students home.
  • Sundays we had two jr. services that are 6th – 8th.
  • Wednesday Nights we had a high school service 9th-12th
  • A small handful of events that catered not only to our students but students in our community.

We did all of this with 12 volunteers and one full-time youth pastor. I had the most wonderful, hardest working, volunteer staff on this planet. Man they served and helped in ways that many people would never see. They defended me when I was wrong in public and helped me see the error of my ways in private. Was it like this at the beginning? No. We had to change the whole volunteer systems when we lost the worship pastor and assistant. It took a lot of vision casting, praying, and sometimes some hard meetings to get the volunteer base that we needed. Was it crazy? YES SIR. Fun? Yes. Did we learn a lot? Yes. More importantly, we all became best friends and did life together. I will miss those years very much.

Let me be clear that I know that the “success” in our eyes that we had been not just the fruit of my labor and some fancy programming. Our youth ministry has had some of the best youth pastors in the world. We had awesome parents who prayed and warred for us. I was blessed to be bearing fruit from years of prayer, work, and faith by not only myself and my wife but so many who came before us and the volunteers. In little more than three years we have tripled the attendance and influence in our community. We were now seeing salvation’s that would have never happened within our four walls. Our influence in the community was not just a dream. It was a reality. Were we perfect??? Absolutely not. Did we have tons more work to do??? Yes Sir. But I believed we are on the right path.

Well what happened you ask. Our senior pastor got involved after many years in ministry and formulated a ministry plan that would essentially turn the youth ministry from a pastoral care ministry into a teaching ministry. That was a great plan and I totally stood behind the plan but sadly I am not a teacher in the respect that was needed for the new lead role. I am a pastor. I like a good mess every now and then. We as shepherd watch the head shepherd (Jesus) and follow what he does. Go where he goes and say what he says. I was more concerned when I was told that I could not build the family environment in our youth ministry we had worked so hard in building. I quickly begin to see how I was a hindrance to the future of this ministry. So my wife and I finally stepped out on faith that he would replace me with an awesome teacher and that Jesus would provide for us. It was a weird moment in my life when I was offering my considerations for my youth ministry position and I hadn’t even looked for myself. The cool thing is I met a guy a few months ago in guest reception and later that day God told me that he was going to be my replacement. Low and be hold from what I have heard he has done a great job.

God being God he has provided for us the entire way and he has not one time been slack on his promises. This has been the hardest two months of my life but it has all been for a reason. I am so amazed at what God has done in and through our family. My wife has been a rock even in times when I have been sand. My children have been well children. My family and friends have offered words of encouragement and prophecy right in the nick of time.

I pray this blesses you and causes you to really think about what you are accomplishing for Jesus though your youth ministry.

If anyone has any questions, concerns, issues, hopes, dreams, or fears about anything I’ve said please leave a comment below.

What are you doing to influence your community???

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