A Bit About My Philosophy of Youth Ministry
A big part of my philosophy of youth ministry is relationships. They are central to everything we do. Positive, empowering relationships between adults and students is key to their flourishing. In fact, Fuller Youth Institute's research found that every student needs at least 5 caring adults in their life.
Not only that, but peer-to-peer friendships of course are key, too! Not only because life requires healthy relationships and social skills, but also because relationships buoy everything. Relationships are the place where the majority of our spiritual life happens—what are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control” apart from relationships?
Healthy connections are essential to resilience.
Safe relationships within the group make space for kids to share the reality of their lives and faith.
We do this through:
-Small groups - breakout groups to discuss/apply the lesson -Highs/lows -Games -"Ask the Expert" - Students are the "expert," and I get to learn from them about their life or world right now. -Built-in hangtime before the programming begins -Outings/activities
Relationships are also the most important for growing the youth group. In all my efforts to grow the ministry, with a few exceptions, the only thing that has ever worked to get new kids to come and stay is through connection; if they don’t know anyone, they are much less likely to come at all.
I recently asked myself, what outcomes do I hope for in the students that are part of our youth ministry? I came up with 3 categories: students who have come for one night, one year, and one life-cycle (middle through high school).
My biggest goal is connection.
• Made a good connection with at least one person, ideally another student
• Had fun
• Felt noticed but not outded
• Built solid friendships with others in the group
• Know one adult in church by name, who also knows them
• Moving toward Jesus, if not accepted him
• More open and vulnerable and honest than the start
• A thoughtful, curious faith
• A personally owned-relationship with Christ
• A good, lasting connection with at least one adult in our church
• Have meaningful friendships/bonds with each other
• Are better discerning between the Kingdom of God & World
• Can navigate the Bible
• Can articulate/understand the basics of the faith
• Grown in Christlike character
• Have improved resources/wisdom to make wise and moral choices
• Can talk about their faith with others with some level of comfort/confidence
• Can articulate the general story of the Bible
• When they graduate/move, they want to belong to a local church
• Are more confident in themselves and loving of themselves than before
• See themselves/their lives as belonging to the Lord and want to serve him.
This Year's Teaching Goals
We'll be focused on character formation, that is, becoming more Christlike. We'll be focused on developing the virtues of humility, compassion, hope, forgiveness, perseverance, love, gratitude, generosity.
We'll have a blend of teaching and doing. I’ve learned that teaching isn’t the most effective path toward transformation. We need more than information download. We need a blend of teaching, experiences, and practices.
Some nights we’ll have a lesson, and on other nights we’ll spend our time doing a meaningful activity or spiritual practice geared toward creating a space or tilling the soil for those virtues to grow. It’ll be doing activities or telling and listening to each other’s stories, etc. We’ll also do a few more service projects.
At the end of the year, all your kids will be just like Jesus.
For some, these will be very stretching. I understand that! But those who really engage will benefit the most! I’ve learned it’s good to set the bar high and be ready to be surprised—if you set the expectations high, even middle schoolers will clear it.
What I ask from you is to encourage your kid to choose to lean into it, even if it’s stretching for them. Encourage them to have a growth mindset—and one way to do that is by asking about their emotional experiences with these practices and process those.
A big part of character formation is having a positive example, a role-model. That’s why this year another one of my goals is to establish a mentorship program. I’m in the beginning stages of learning how to build a quality program; my goal is to have it ready to go by January. Be on the lookout for more info.
This year is going to be very different from years past, but I'm optimistic; I'm hoping and praying that the Holy Spirit will use these changes, along with the everyday life and things you do as a family, to produce positive, lasting fruit in our young people's lives as we pursue Christ together.