youth ministry format

If it was up to you, what would your youth ministry look like?

Maybe you grew up in a youth ministry, maybe you work or volunteer in one, maybe you’ve never been a part of one. Either way, I’m curious what “components” you would include in a youth ministry if it was completely up to you?

Some meet in small groups and large groups. Some only in small groups. Some only in large groups. Some large groups meet weekly, some meet monthly. Some small groups meet weekly, some bi-weekly.

What would a youth ministry designed by YOU look like? What matters? What changes lives?

You can be brief or you can roll out an entire philosophy of ministry.

16 thoughts on “youth ministry format”

  1. Wow, this a great topic and one that whole books have been written on so I’m not going to be able to explain everything in one comment. So, let me throw this into the discussion… I think the thing that is missing in the majority of student ministries today is a lack of students connecting to the church community. SM strategies focus on moving students from the front door to a fully developed follower of Christ without ever helping them see and be connected to the larger vision of their local church community. We have to find ways to bring the 2 areas together.

  2. Pat you make a great point. I know of a couple youth ministries that don’t meet (on Sundays) so that the students come to the main service. Some churches cater to the younger ones by teaching or singing a certain way, while others just do what they do and hope that the kids are cool with it.

    on a side note… my blog has so many LURKERS!
    speak up. blogs are no place to be introverted.

  3. You guys bring up an interesting point with connecting students to the rest of the body. Our middle school has a large group meeting on Wednesday night…which works out great for our students.

    But, part of our program also has our students attend church Sunday morning with their families. If their families do not attend our church (which about half of our middle school students fall into this category) we sit with them and act as their family in church. This gives them the opportunity to watch their family worship…or watch their youth leaders worship and participate in church…we’ve seen a great positive impact from this.

  4. I don’t think attending church=involvement in the church community. We have students that attend our main services, but they are not plugged in. Involvement is on a local & global level. Global is mission trips, supporting missions, etc. Local is serving the community and serving in the church community. When someone walks into our church I want them to see teenagers all over the place serving. We want students discovering their passions through experiencing service. Students are walking away from the church when they graduate because they don’t know how to serve the church or their community.
    Also, this generation of kids are all about serving and that service can be a serious open door. I think student ministries that continue to put all their resources and focus on the “big event” as the open door will end up with lots of students that don’t know what it means to follow Christ.

  5. Jeff that’s a great idea. Do your kids meet in small groups or anything like that?

    Pat I think you’re right man… the kids aren’t walking away from their faith, they’re just sort of wandering out the door. I see plenty of churches with ministries set up as a sort of hopscotch that goes like this: kids, junior high, high school, college, young adults, big church… but you’re talking about getting each of those plugged into the mission of the church right NOW.

    Right now we have a whole bunch of students who come to our high school service and then go to the main service after. It’s not a perfect set-up (that’s a lot of songs and talk for one morning!). I’d like to see those same kids serving all over the church on Sundays.

  6. I would just give money to the poor and never tell them about Jesus…lol (i guess that’s not funny), but you get it. You know I have had the unique opportunity to see it done a ton of different ways. One of the things I find happening in my our soul is that i believe that i have it right, and then i see someone else doing something different and i’m like frick….they’ve nailed it. So, I bring back that way of doing it to my context and it bombs…..What! There are some many ways to run a youth min, none is necessarily right and vice versa.
    So, now to your question….the first part was my babble. If I could do it I would have it be very hands on, experiential. I love the fact that the disciples walked with Jesus and saw and experienced. Can you imagine holding on to the fish and bread that Jesus just multiplied? Can you imagine seeing the leper being healed and touching the skin that was just saturated with sores? Can you imagine drinking the wine that he had changed it’s chemical compounds….crazy! The best learning is that which is done through experience. I’ll submit this for now, but i have much more.

  7. I like what you’re saying Jeff. It seems like we pastors have all read the books about HOW people learn but we still keep doing the same old things that don’t work.

    I think we see a LITTLE BIT of progress and end up settling. I’ve done that for sure. We see something that sort of works and we stop trying to find creative ways to teach.

  8. Something I have been convicted of lately is how we describe our relationship with God as something that is so personal and not community orriented.
    People’s failure to walk with Jesus does not just affect them, but that’s what most people think because thats what we often teach. And I believe that most people are ok with suffering the consequences of their own failures. It’s when other peoples lives are negatively impacted by our lack of connection with God that most people want to address their relationship with God.
    We are community, God deals with us as community because we are “the people of God”. I think that this is something that is vital to communicate with our kids, because it’s so hard to see past yourself, especially as a teen-ager. There is too much at stake to live in sin, and neglect Jesus Christ. I believe that God won’t fully move through his people when selfish apathy is prevelent.
    I know it’s harsh, but I don’t want people in our church who don’t care, there is too much at stake. So to answer your question… I communicate this, claim Jesus, teach the bible, expect change, love everyone, and do ministry through relationships – not from the front of the room, and pray… alot.

  9. What about a huge once a month gathering … and once a month Bible study and once a month service projects.


  10. Ryan, since I don’t want to just lurk, here’s my 2 cents. I suppose you will be getting to this, maybe even this Sunday. Actually, I can’t really claim the 2 cents, but it seems to fit the discussion.

    25I have become its (the Church’s) servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
    28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

  11. Josh G- I think you’re joking, but I know of a church that has over 10k people coming on Sundays and a youth program like that.

    Paul- that’s a great verse for this conversation. I’m really interested in hearing about the format/method that people think is ideal for presenting the word of God in its fullness.

  12. I have no clue which components are best or if the ones I tend to gravitate to are even worth having. Worship, message, game, follow-up, welcome, announcements, outreach, discipleship, small groups, missions opportunities, purpose-driven this, 7 checkpoints that… blah, blah, blah.

    I found myself thinking ADJECTIVES more than COMPONENTS. Hopefully these would describe whatever components you have in place. Here are a few:

    Freakin’ Passionate
    Overwhelmingly Transparent
    Creator-Like Creative
    Radically Biblical
    Lightning Fast to the Least of These

    Those are my 7 checkpoints, I think. Seems to me that if you bathed whatever youth ministry pieces you had in those sorts of God-given chemicals, your format would rock.

  13. Ryan,

    This is a great conversation once again that you started. I’ve been sitting and thinking about this for the past few days…

    This will probably make no sense; but the first thing that jumped into my mind was Burton (the snowboard company). Have you noticed over the past ten years they have created extentions of their brand like analog, gravis shoes, and anon optics to name a few. These 3 companies are similar in many ways to the parent brand with similar feel, style and vision. I imagine their only difference is what they sell (shoes, boards, glasses).

    When you ask what my philosophy for student ministry is, my first impulse is to say “that it needs to be an extension of the larger mission/vision of the church.” a number of student pastors I know have utterly different approaches and values than what the larger church is doing. It’s not an extension and for some they don’t even want it to be.

    Here are some overall values of the whole church I deeply resonate with that would be fun to create, lead, or volunteer in a student ministry and watch play out.

    Volunteerism – a church that puts time, money, and resources aside to recruit, train, and values God dream that his people would be a kingdom of priests.

    Whole salvation for the whole person – a church that continually invites people into a more holistic relationship with Christ. There were some students that new more about the bible than I did; but struggled to know how to find belonging with others. One tangible way for this student to discover a more whole salvation is to learn how to talk, listen, and connect with others. The same is true if you flip that situation around because so many students need to find a deeper salvation through the gift of the text.

    Giving yourself away – what could conversations look like if young and old were learning more and more about how they can give themselves away. Whether through serving together, how you talk about finances or asking the kinds of questions that cannot be ignored truly allows a community to understand that worship is whatever you do.

    I have more that deal with theology, churches, (small, medium and large groups)embracing the mystery, change, and the holy spirit. Celebrating the disciplines – a contemplative missiology

  14. Ryan,

    Good question, and a good conversation. I can’t speak to a full format so much as a few basic principles.

    1. No one gets discipled from the pulpit or generally from large group meetings. Not in “adult” church, not in youth meetings. For growth to happen there has to be individual or small group interaction.

    2. As a corollary to this, I’m convinced kids experience love when we spend time with them. Small group leaders should be seeking to hang out with their kids and live godly lives with them in all parts of life (even if it isn’t a Bible study). What is more helpful than experiencing love while witnessing a godly life first hand?

    3. I’m convinced that student leaders are hugely important. For my part I’ve decided to spend most of my time outside of my youth group with about 4 freshman guys who, while not real mature yet, will grow the more that I spend time with them and invest in them. The idea is that as they grow, they will bring up the level of their peers, plus after enough time spent with me or another leader, they will be solid disciples who will maintain their walk with the Lord once they are long outside of my youth ministry.

    4. I’m also convinced that in general, the modern semi-entertainment driven model of youth ministry is pretty badly broken. We can’t “out-fun” the world, but we can expose kids to real love and real joy in a way that the world cannot. I know too many kids who were really involved in their youth groups who went to college and partied away their walks with Christ. We should spend more time equipping kids (teach them to think, feel, and act like Christians holistically) and less time trying to just keep them there.

    Those are a few off the cuff thoughts anyway. But what do I know? I’ve only been a youth pastor for a few months.


  15. I just typed out the most massive response to everyone’s comments and then it deleted itself when I hit the backspace button (it went back to my previous page).

    I will now go weep for a while and come back later to re-type my thoughts…

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