3 Signs of an Unhealthy Youth Ministry
When you sit down in a doctor’s office, the first question is always: so tell me about what brought you in today. Most of the time, we go to a doctor because we are either feeling sick or trying to prevent becoming sick. There are tell-tale signs a person is becoming sick such as a cough, fever, or chills. When we see these signs coming, there are two options: ignore it or fix it.
If we choose to ignore it, then we are blindly hoping for the symptoms to work themselves out. The second option is to treat the symptoms and take an active role in restoring our health.
Unfortunately, many youth ministries have glaring symptoms of unhealth, yet we refuse to take active steps to help bring our youth ministries back to a healthy place. For lots of people, though, we may not know the signs of an unhealthy ministry, but we know something might be wrong with what we do every week. We want to take just a few minutes to identify three signs of an unhealthy ministry and give you some remedies to overcome them and bring your ministry back to its full potential!
1. Exclusive Clicks
If we are talking about youth ministry problems, you have to mention clicks, but I want to take a moment to give a Public Service Announcement. If you have clicks in your youth ministry, that is not inherently a bad thing. We all have clicks in our lives, even as grown adults. There are people we generally prefer to be with and spend time with, which is not a terrible thing.
The issue a youth ministry can have is exclusive clicks where people feel unwelcome or unwanted. An easy sign you have exclusive clicks is watching when a new person arrives at your youth ministry without being brought by someone. Hopefully, if a guest comes with someone, they are welcomed into the friend group. The random guest who’s parent or guardian insisted they go to church because Jesus is important and good Christian friends are hard to come by is a different story. Does this individual seem to be caught in the dead space that exists between all of your clicks? Do you find every group hanging out in your student area is gathered on the edges of the room with little to no care for what is happening elsewhere in the room?
If this sounds like a description of your youth group, then you might have an issue with exclusive clicks. Some easy ways to overcome this are to be a proper demonstration of moving between different friend groups. You and your leadership can lead this charge, or you can even have conversations with some key student leaders to ask them to move around during hang out times at your youth group. It also helps to have student greeters who can help welcome people to the building; you just need to make sure the student greeters don't turn into a click. This would be like ordering four McRibs, a large fry, and diet coke because you're watching your figure. We all have people we want to spend time with, and usually, those groups are easier to have a conversation with. If you spend your time moving between different social groups, you will model this in a powerful way for your students to help them overcome these exclusive clicks.
2. No New Faces
I mentioned this earlier, but it's the idea of new faces. When's the last time you saw new students at your youth ministry gatherings? This could be midweek, Sunday School, or any event? Some of you aren't gathering still, and so it's been a considerable amount of time. In a regular-season of ministry, though, how often do you see new faces? I even want to count when your current "regulars" bring their friends to youth group.
If you find it difficult to remember new faces, you might have an unhealthy youth group. If your students are not bringing friends to youth group, this could send a message that they don't want friends to experience those gatherings. That is the EXTREME end of things, but it is hard to move forward until we are honest with ourselves. Their friends could be super involved in other youth ministries, but this is wishful thinking over practical sometimes.
With no new faces, this often means we lack presence in a few key areas of our student's lives. You lack presence in schools, in families, or the community at large. Long gone are the days of "build it and they will come" because, in our current culture, the field of dreams is sitting on a couch laughing at tik toks together. There are many options available for your students to use their time doing, and as bad as it sounds, we are competing for that time. Students are busier now than they've ever been, and we need to make sure they know what they are coming for.
By spending time in schools, you'll get to know not only your students but their friends. You can personally talk about cool events or fun gatherings. You have to personally invite them to church. I know some adults whose lives were changed because a youth pastor, not a student, invited them to church. This can be as simple as attending weekly sports games and events to meet your students while also gaining valuable time to speak with their friends.
Connections with the families will often lead to the parents vouching for you. Tommy's mom will talk to Justin's mom because Tommy has such a wonderful time at the youth group.
New faces represent new life and energy pouring into our ministry because the hard part of student ministry is that students will always age out. There will come a time when your core students graduate, and we must ensure there will still be a ministry after them. New faces are vital for healthy and thriving ministries.
3. Lack of Vision
When I read the Old Testament, I often wonder what the day to day was like for those who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. When they woke up each day, what did they think? To walk around without aim or purpose can be wonderful for a day, but after a week, it becomes tiring. After a year, we become lost, and after six years, the impact we have is minute. What do you want students to have learned or gained from your ministry at the end of their time? This is a vital question that healthy youth ministries answer, and unhealthy youth ministries don’t know to ask.
Vision means more than simply what sermon series comes next, but rather what might this year look like for our ministry? The vision inspires people, but they are moved to action by it as well. When we hear Apple Events unfold their latest and greatest products to the world, it's not necessarily the product itself that catches our eyes. It will change our day to day, or the intentionality of how each device interconnects is what makes Apple the company it is. (I'm sure all of the android users in the room just logged off of this article)
We are not called to simply guide students along, hoping they pick up some bits of spiritual truth during their youth ministry years. Our calling as youth pastors and leaders is to help shape, encourage, and teach students vital spiritual principles which they will use for the rest of their lives. We all would agree high school is important because you learn vital skills during this time, yet we can often treat our youth ministry as just a way to make sure students stay out of trouble.
What do you want students to have learned or gained from your ministry at the end of their time? This question should be at the forefront of your mind as a youth leader. What will this year look like, or next year, and even what does a comprehensive discipleship plan for our students look like?
Healthy youth ministries look forward with a big vision. Vision large enough that God must intervene or else we will fail. Here at YM360, we know youth ministers wear many hats. Click Breaker, Outreach Manager, and Vision Caster are just a few of those. We love helping and serving you in any capacity we can. If there is anything we can do to help or simply have a conversation, we are always just one call away! Thank you again for stopping by, and I hope you have a fantastic day!