How to start a youth ministry from scratch
Part 1: Choose a focus - entertainment, social services, or Bible teaching.
So, you want to start a youth ministry at your church (or perhaps you’ve been kindly asked by your minister)? That’s great! Youth ministry is important but where do you start?
There is probably a thousand different starting points for a youth ministry, many of which come from a pressing need or demand (“Ummm ... What do we do with our young people?”). I don’t propose to have all the answers for your situation but I do intend to equip you with some essential questions to help you get off on the right foot.
What type of youth ministry do you want?
The first thing you need to do is work out what type of youth ministry you want to run based on your theological principles. This is where so many youth ministries come unstuck. There can often be such immediate pressure to get something up and running, that your youth ministry is formed mostly around practical issues rather than thinking about how your model of youth ministry might cultivate and grow young people to be more like Jesus.
Below is a table of 3 common types of youth ministry. The first 2 types are not exclusive to Christian youth ministry and can be found in secular youth work organisations as well (like the Police & Community Youth Clubs etc). The last column ("Bible Focus") shows a type of youth ministry that is exclusive to Christian organisations (typically the church) and is the model of youth ministry I will be concentraing on in this article.
I’ve formed a model of youth ministry shaped on this third column and have been using it since 2005; it started with a new youth group of 6 young people and has grown to (currently) 40. That’s not to say that it’s the best or only faithful model of a “Bible Focus” youth ministry, but I’m satisfied that it faithfully puts our theological principles into practice and is a consistent outworking of biblical values and evangelical beliefs.
The trouble with just focusing on entertainment
The real drawbacks of having an entertainment-based youth ministry strategy are:
- It’s incredibly resource heavy, taxing on both financial and human resources.
- You often lose people with every transition.
- People rarely “graduate” or “move on” from the ”let me entertain you” type youth ministry into the Bible focussed youth group/small groups.
- The maturing of faith in your Christian young people is often stunted.
It’s a model of ministry akin to that championed by Willow Creek, which after 3 decades, has now abandoned it as “a mistake”.*
So, which model is right for you?
Have you worked out which model you want to run?
The answer should come from the questions 'Why do I want to start a youth ministry?', and 'What’s the aim of our youth ministry?'.
Just to give you an idea of how your choice of youth ministry type affects your next step, if you chose:
1. The drop in centre - your first step will be to secure a large space (eg. a hall), some community funding for equipment (eg. gym/sports equipment, pool tables etc), and link in with your local social services. Once that is set up, recruiting and training volunteers is next.
2. Let me entertain you - your first step is to secure an adequate budget (from your church or elsewhere) that will support the financial burden of creating and running new and exciting activities on a weekly basis. This model of youth ministry is quite resource-heavy on youth leaders and so you will need to recruit quite a few very energetic and creative leaders to spread the load and keep things fresh.
3. Bible Focus - your first step is to recruit some leaders who can commit to sharing the Bible with passion and creativity, and who don't doubt that the word of God is powerful to change lives.
This is just a taste of how the foundation of your type of youth ministry will affect the process in starting a youth ministry from scratch. Next week, we'll take a look in more detail on how to begin a Bible Focus youth ministry.
*As a side note: To be fair, there are many people who run the “let me entertain you” type youth ministry as a culturally comfortable way-in for non-Christian young people to hear the gospel. This type of youth ministry often looks like the way it’s described in column 2 but with the introduction of a short gospel talk/explanation as part of the youth gathering and the further aim of moving young people on to a more Bible-focussed youth group or Bible study group after they’ve heard the gospel. For a full assessment of this type of youth ministry strategy read Changing the World Through Effective Youth Ministry by Ken Moser.