I was sitting at a senior graduation dinner and one thought continued to run through my head: "Three to twenty six!" Even I didn't believe this was possible. And I had dreamed big. Just two years ago there was only three of them and now this! The even bigger news? The next year we would graduate 52. How did it happen? What was the formula? How can we do it again? As I began to think about all those questions, one thing stood out.
There was not one graduating senior with whom we didn't have a story.
There was not one senior with whom we had not experienced a "life-long" memory. All of them truly had close relationships with their life group leaders and me. I had an overwhelming sense of contentment. We did it the right way. We had not fallen into the trap of viewing these students as number boosters. We had not manipulated them into coming. We had not simply entertained them. We had invested in their lives. And in return, they began investing in their friends' lives. (Which was the plan all along!) The truth is, students are smart. They know when they are being used and when you really care.
At the end of the night, one comment stood out and forever changed my view of youth ministry. She said when she started coming to Rock Creek, "she felt wanted, not just needed." There are thousands, upon thousands of teenagers out there who need to "feel wanted, not just needed." I have fallen into the trap before where you aren't looking at students so much as individuals, but more as how they can help your numbers look on a roll.
It's a place I hope to never be again.
If you find yourself there, may I suggest you ask yourself the simple question, why it was that you began youth ministry in the first place. Loving teenagers should be a big part of the answer. As I lay in bed that night after the ceremony, still questioning how exactly we had experienced such strong growth, I found the answers to my questions: The formula is simple, but costly! We must continue to take Jesus as He is to students as they are! We must love them. We must serve them. We must invest in them. We must make disciples. That is what we do . . . it is why we exist.
- What have been your secrets, or keys, to growing a youth ministry, yet still keeping the emphasis on relationships?
- Have you ever been too focused on the wrong kind of growth (numbers of students vs spiritual growth in their lives)? What helpes you regain your focus?