This month we’re looking at the time-tested principles that lead to building a thriving youth ministry. Each week, we’re discussing one principle and digging into how it can be applied right now, even in the midst of changing methods and uncertain times. Read our introductory post with the first principle here.
Principle 2: RELATIONAL
Engaging the journey
When we say relational, we don’t just mean small groups. Most of us have experienced small groups that are far from being truly relational, where the focus doesn’t extend beyond answering that week’s questions as quickly as possible.
Relational to us means creating a connection where individual young people are engaged at a heart level, where lasting friendships are developed, and where we walk beside people on their particular journey of faith.
When young people share their story of coming to faith in the person of Jesus, it’s as varied and relational as that individual is themselves. It’s always a unique journey they’ve been on with Jesus, not a cookie-cutter experience.
If we want to cultivate thriving youth ministries, we need to develop a culture that relationally engages people in the whole journey. We need to develop leaders who are interested, rather than interesting. We need to cultivate mentors who seek to understand, rather than be understood. We need communities that will journey alongside our young people as they journey alongside Jesus.
This journey can’t be scripted. It must be lived.
Don Everts and Dough Schaup, in their book I Once Was Lost, talk about the many different thresholds that people have to walk through before they choose to follow Jesus. Coming to faith is often a long and slow process that looks slightly different for each person. But there are commonalities, thresholds we can look for and pray over.
A thriving youth ministry isn’t just evaluated by “success” metrics. It needs to be evaluated by relational metrics as well. Do our teens feel heard and cared for throughout all stages of their faith journey? Are we engaging with them, and walking beside them, during both the micro and the macro steps in this journey?
Macro steps are those big moments that come with great celebration–and rightly so! Macro steps are things like baptism, choosing to follow Jesus, and going on a missions trip.
Micro steps are those smaller, less obvious moments, that lead up to the bigger steps. The first time a student raises a doubt in a small group is a micro step. Are we creating an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their doubts and questions? Are we meeting them with grace and connection in that space?
When someone is still feeling a bit unsure about this Jesus thing, but wants to share the positive experience they are having at your gathering and invites a friend to faith related event, that’s a micro step. Are we encouraging our teens to invite their friends? Are we cheering them on and supporting them when they do?
And, of course, the first time any teen makes a decision to show up at one of our events, whether in person or virtually, is a micro step and an opportunity to start to journey alongside them.
To cultivate thriving youth ministries we need to take a long view of the whole journey, celebrate the macro and micro steps, and build relationships with our youth as mentors, friends, and guides, rather than just instructors.
This is the second 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.