A few weeks ago I listened to a nationally known youth minister speak to his youth group. It was a recording of course, but I had hit a dry spell inspirationally and needed something to kind of jolt me and get my gears turning. So I tuned in to this youth ministers videos on Youtube. This guy was a great speaker, everything flowed together, he moved from one point to another, and he incorporated a lot of flash and pizzazz in his message. (So everything I am not!)
One thing stood out to me though like a sore thumb. If I were a teenager who had never been inside of a church before, I would have had no idea what he was talking about. I’m not claiming to know his program set up, so what I heard may have been their program for deeper learning, but he used a lot of phrases like “in Christ” “saved” and “covered by grace”.
This got me to thinking; do I make the same mistakes? I am guilty of this too sometimes! What we sometimes do as youth pastors is that we ‘assume’ everyone who comes through our doors has been in church for as long as we have, we ‘assume’ they know how to properly exegeses Romans 2, and we ‘assume’ they even know what a Bible is or who Jesus is.
One of the characteristics of successful youth ministries that I have noticed in my own area is that they are ‘Un-Assuming’ youth ministries. Not that there is nothing remarkable about them, quite the opposite actually, the remarkable thing is that they address students of all levels. They don’t assume that a student is saved, baptized, and holds a Masters of Divinity degree when they enter the doors of the youth ministry. They have a program that is easy for a non-believing teenager and a teen that is one more mission trip away from that set of steak knives to understand.
So what are some practical ways to make your youth ministry more ‘Un-Assuming’?
Watch the vernacular you use when you speak. Replace words like ‘saved’ with words like ‘a person who has accepted Jesus as the center of their life’. Words like “covered by grace” with “God has forgiven me of something and I don’t deserve it”.
Even though you spent years (in my case more than I like to admit), getting your degree; youth group is not the place to show off the big words you learned in Greek and Systematic Theology class. Save those for another occasion.
A big help for non-believing students is the environment. Make sure the paint and layout of the room is warm and inviting. Make the non-believing student feel at home when they come in.
A major advantage to this is assigning some of your core students to shake hands and welcome them with a warm smile when they visit for the first time. I cannot count how many students have probably graced the door of my youth group and never received a shake or a smile from another student.
3. Put yourself out there
I know, youth group time is usually crazy! You’ve got that one student who wants to talk to you about their boyfriend/girlfriend for the 30th time this week, you have that parent who needs to ask you a quick question about the camp deposit that was due last month that they didn’t pay, and your trying to get packed up and out to go spend some time with your family before the little ones go to bed. But how often do you go out of your way to make sure AFTER youth group that you shake hands with that visiting teenager and tell them you hoped they enjoyed youth group and hope to see them again? Take a second and say welcome to them. Your presence as the friendly (if odd) welcoming youth pastor will make an impression on that teenager. Your presence as the aloof, never around, always in a hurry youth pastor will also make an impression on them as well.
No youth ministry or youth minister is perfect, so rest assured you are not the only one out there! But we can all take steps to making our youth ministry a little more ‘Un-Assuming’! Until next time! Just Keep Swimming!