best practices youth ministry

Youth Ministry Building Blocks: From Start to Success

I recently had a conversation with a pastoral associate from another parish about establishing a youth ministry. It had been years since they last had anything resembling a ministry for teenagers, and with a new pastor in place, they were eager to build something from the ground up. They desired to employ a full-time youth minister but were apprehensive about bringing someone into a non-existent framework. Consequently, he posed the question to me, "Where do I begin?"

Whether you are initiating a new ministry or revitalizing an existing one, the process of starting anew can be challenging. It necessitates the development of a new plan, the removal of outdated systems, and gaining the support of everyone involved. Although it may seem like an uphill battle, with persistence and a great deal of patience, you can establish a thriving ministry regardless of your current circumstances. To kick-start the process, you need to:

Assemble a Team of Committed Doers and Dreamers

You cannot implement these changes on your own. Even if your pastor and colleagues are on board, you need the congregation's support. While not everyone may be ready to fully commit, it's essential to find a small group of individuals willing to do the necessary work.

When forming your team, ensure it comprises individuals who think big and aren't afraid of bold ideas. These creative troubleshooters are eager to embrace the kingdom-sized vision bestowed upon the parish by God. Give them the opportunity to influence your decisions.

You also require people who are willing to venture into the mission field, roll up their sleeves, and put your plans into action. These individuals take your ideas and make them a reality. Without them, everything remains a mere concept and eventually fades away.

Most importantly, having a team by your side will help you overcome challenges and combat the sense of isolation that can arise when starting from scratch.

Evaluate and Assess Your Existing Ministries

When parishes claim a lack of youth ministry, it often means they don't have a dedicated program for teenagers, implying a gap in serving the next generation. However, many parishes already offer activities like sacramental preparation, scout programs, sports leagues, and altar service for middle and high school students, indicating some form of youth ministry exists. The crucial question is how to integrate and align these existing programs.

Before addressing this, conduct a comprehensive assessment of your ministry's impact on teens and their families through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. Identify programs that can be leveraged to strengthen your youth ministry. This audit also highlights that you're not starting entirely from scratch, even with limited resources, providing motivation to move forward.

Define Your Ministry's Goals

There are numerous opinions on what youth ministry should be, but many of them may not be accurate. To establish a healthy youth ministry, you must answer the question, "What do we hope to achieve?" When addressing this question, you must be specific and focus on your mission field and discipleship.

Regarding your mission field, you need to understand where young people spend their time and energy. Research their social media preferences and influences. Engage in conversations with teenagers, parents, coaches, teachers, and anyone else who interacts with young people. Gain a clear understanding of your mission field, as this is where you will carry out your evangelization efforts.

When defining discipleship, you should have a clear vision of the habits and characteristics you wish to instill in young individuals. While the possibilities are endless, begin with five foundational habits that will lead to the development of other discipleship practices. Consider the resources and opportunities your parish already provides for growth and explore how you can further invest in them. A clear vision for your parish will contribute to its thriving future.

Beta Test Before Full Implementation

The temptation may be to dive headfirst into creating a ministry that fills the calendar and accommodates hundreds of teenagers. However, the reality is that your parish may not be ready for such an extensive endeavor due to logistical challenges. Therefore, it's vital to start on a smaller scale.

No matter which program or strategy you choose, select a small group of 6-8 individuals to participate in the initial stages. Have them take notes, provide real-time feedback, and assist in refining your programs.

You can hire a youth minister to support you in this process, but they must be committed to growth. Ensure that you provide them with the necessary support and resources to build from scratch. The crucial aspect is laying the groundwork, assessing the situation, forming a team, and creating a vision. With proper preparation, your ministry will not only grow but will also witness transformative change within and around it.

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