Building or reviving youth ministry? Learn how to start, assess existing programs, define goals, and more for a thriving ministry.
Cultivating a Home for Young Leaders in the Church
Every Tuesday and Thursday, two high school interns come into my office, and immediately dive into the candy jar on my bookshelf. While they will tell you it's the sweets that keep them coming back, I know there is a deeper reason. No, we've invested substantial time and resources in ensuring they understand their immense role in our mission to reach others for Christ.
Youth ministry isn't merely about boosting church attendance among young people. It's about embracing the next generation, guiding them on their faith journey, and empowering them to share God's love.
In my experience, small groups form the backbone of a vibrant youth ministry, and service becomes its feet. Our hope as next generation ministry leaders is to bring young people to the Eucharist. But, if we are to invite young souls to the Lord's table and ignite their passion for Christ, we have to help them recognize the vital role they play in fulfilling the Church's mission.
If your parish struggles to convey this message, to forge a connection with the next generation, and to empower them in spreading the Good News, consider asking yourself these three critical questions:
DO THEY FEEL SEEN BY US?
While your parish may not have a large number of young people, they do visit your campus. How do you respond when they come? Do you question their presence or appreciate their effort?
Teenagers don't always seek attention, so you don't need to idolize them. Simply begin with a smile and a greeting. If you're unfamiliar with them, take the opportunity to get to know them. If you already know them, express pleasure in seeing them again, inquire about their day, and offer encouragement.
By letting young people know that you listen to them, they will recognize your genuine care. They will perceive you as accessible, making you a valuable resource.
ARE WE GIVING THEM WORK THAT MATTERS?
It's always impressive to witness how much responsibility young people can handle. We have teenagers who excel at managing our live stream, leading small groups of children, and directing a worship band. We regularly see them taking the lead because they understand that their leadership directly influences the success of their endeavors.
One common mistake we make when giving young people responsibilities is failing to grant them ownership. While tasks like stacking chairs, picking up trash, or distributing papers should not be beneath them, limiting their involvement to such tasks can lead to boredom.
To provide them with ownership, encourage them to enhance or expand upon the tasks assigned to them. Seek their opinions and insights on how to improve initiatives that involve them. Engage in conversations that treat them as stakeholders in the ministry's success. By inviting them to take responsibility, you demonstrate that the Church believes in their leadership abilities and their capacity to make a meaningful impact. As they grow and develop, you can entrust them with greater responsibilities.
HOW ARE WE SHOWING THEM THAT THEY HAVE VALUE?
Recognizing a young person's achievements and commending them is important, but it's equally crucial to demonstrate that they are valued and deserving of your time and financial support. It's essential for every parish budget to allocate a specific amount for volunteer appreciation and development, including young leaders.
Initiating gratitude by offering a gift card or sharing a meal is a good starting point. However, if you want to make the most of your investment, consider taking students to workshops and conferences that provide high-quality training. Engage them in leadership or discipleship materials such as books, video series, or podcasts.
Ensure that the investment directly relates to their role and the outcomes of their work. When gratitude is connected to their contributions, they will recognize that your investment is based on your belief in their capability to accomplish remarkable things.
If the Church doesn't demonstrate effort in keeping teenagers engaged, they are unlikely to continue spending time on the campus. It begins with hospitality, followed by inviting them to be part of the vision and equipping them with resources for success. When teens feel a sense of belonging, they will be more inclined to stay involved.