What does it take to cultivate a thriving youth ministry in 2020?
This year has undoubtedly thrown a lot at all of us. But these are particularly challenging times for our teens, who are already struggling to find their way in the world.
Navigating COVID-19, racial divides, protests, social distancing, cancelled plans, and failed expectations for 2020, churches and organizations worldwide have tried new methods for their youth ministries.
Some of these new initiatives have worked well and had unexpectedly positive outcomes. For example, a youth pastor in Missouri recently shared that they’ve doubled attendance since offering Alpha for youth online.
Realizing change of any kind can also be overwhelming, we want to encourage you–by reminding you of the things that haven’t changed.
The methods we use may need to adapt to the time that we live in, but the principles behind our methods are constant. Our youth may be facing challenges very different from the ones their parents or grandparents faced at their age, but their core needs remain the same. We may meet with and equip our teens differently now, but the why behind our choices remains consistent.
We’ve found there are a few essential principles that help youth ministers cultivate thriving youth ministries in any setting at any time. When these principles are in action, young people’s faith blossoms in its authenticity, teens regularly invite their friends to come and see for themselves what God is doing, and we see an infusion of life, passion, innovation, and service within the local church.
Over the next several weeks, we want to support and encourage you by sharing these key principles for developing thriving youth ministries in any context. Today, we’ll look at the first one.
Principle 1: REAL
Monologue to dialogue
Today, with schools all over the country still uncertain about the fall, young people are finding themselves isolated from their peers and distanced from their social circles. There’s no clarity about when the isolation might end.
Our youth, much like our adult population, are lonely. They are hurting and afraid; trying to find their way in the world when their futures feel uncertain.
In an environment like this, it is more important than ever that teens and young adults are given safe spaces where they can be real and feel heard.
It’s easy for our youth groups and small groups to drift toward content cramming, rather than cultivating relationships. It’s all too simple to fall into the trap of rushing through content and a supplied outline of questions instead of the messier work of making space for meaningful, honest, and real conversations. But our youth don’t need more information thrown at them, especially right now, they need connection.
At Alpha, we often quote David Augsburger, who says in Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” Whether we’re meeting in person, or virtually, people are still longing for real connection, which always starts with having someone listen to you.
Attentive listening is not a natural skill-set. It needs to be modeled. It needs to be practiced. It needs to be developed over time, through training that starts with the leadership and works down from there.
One resource we recommend for training leaders is a simple three-step process that our friends at Fuller Youth Institute wrote about on their blog–encourage, paraphrase, and summarize.
Thriving youth ministries don’t just value dialogue, they train their teams on how to listen well, so that they can create environments for healthy dialogue whether they’re meeting in person or virtually.
This is the first in a series of four posts sharing core principles of reaching youth in a tumultuous time. Learn more about how the Alpha Youth Series can help create a space of listening and connection here.