Effective Youth Ministry Press Blog
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This blog is designed for anyone who wants to think seriously about youth ministry. It is for: fulltime youth leaders, part time youth leaders, volunteers in youth ministry and those who are thinking about youth ministry in the future. The goal is for us to think practically and strategically, with our Bibles wide open. Remember, it is crucial that the word of God shapes our methods and not only our message in youth ministry. Read on…
Well, I’m in Phoenix Arizona and it is going to be hot… really hot. It’s gonna hit 115? (for my American friends) or 46? (for the rest of the world) this week. But hey, it’s a dry heat. With the heat comes summer camp. Ah yes, a great time to cool off near some water and have a great time of Christian fellowship.
A few weeks back I asked two questions about camp, “What is summer camp about?” And “Who is it for?” Now I realize that this may sound like an odd question, but I’m not convinced that we have really thought this through all that thoroughly. We tend to limit our thinking to, “I’ve been to camp, my family has been to camp. Camp is great, support camp.”
However, culture is changing and, if I’m not mistaken, we will start to see a bit of a hurt put on the whole camp movement. The average summer camp isn’t bursting at the seams with volunteers and leaders. We are struggling to fill our positions each summer as we see a decline in numbers in our local church youth groups. There is a ‘trickle down effect’ and it is my worry that we will continue to see a decline in the numbers of volunteers needed to staff our camps and a drop in the numbers of campers themselves. The pool that we draw from is shrinking and less kids in church based youth groups = less camp staff and less campers. (There is one caveat I can add about camp—with the increased busyness of parents, summer camp may well become a viable ‘babysitting club’ option for some youth. This may help to extend to life of summer camp but will significantly decrease its effectiveness.)
With this in mind, it is crucial that we think critically and carefully about summer camp. Let’s tackle one of the questions I raised a few weeks back—who do we aim to attract to our camp? Here is my answer:
Camp is a temporary gathering of members of the Kingdom of God who come together for a week of Christian fellowship. They do this because summer camp offers them two things: 1. A chance to gather with spiritually like-minded youth from a wide region. 2. The summer break gives them the luxury of spending a solid week in unhurried Christian fellowship pursuing Christian disciplines. Many of the youth’s schedules ‘crowd out’ some of these spiritual disciplines. Summer camp is a time to slow down and ‘re-engage’.
Please note that my definition is not meant to exclude nonChristians but rather is about placing the emphasis on ministry to the Christian youth, not on attracting the nonChristians. It will mean that at camp we can work on those activities that we should be able to do well: prayer, Bible study, worship, service, growing together in fellowship, love etc. (As I have said earlier in other forums we must remember that the Bible teaches us that these activities in and of themselves are attractive and effective in Christian growth and promoting the gospel to the outsider.)
Our goal for summer camp is that the youth who come will be encouraged and equipped to go back to their communities to live for Jesus. This will also mean that those Christian youth who come to camp will minister their friends and seek to bring them to the very camp that was a blessing for them! They will want their friends to experience the great things that summer camp offers: prayer, Bible study, worship, service, growing together in fellowship, love etc.
Can I remind you of the ‘Iceberg Principle’ of youth ministry? Imagine your group (or summer camp) is an iceberg, if the base of this (70-90%) is nonChristians, you will spend all your energy keeping it from toppling over. If your base is built of Christian youth, you can effectively minister to the 10-30% of nonChristian. What this means practically for us is that we will seek primarily to attract a large majority of Christians who will invite a much smaller minority of nonChristians. This will allow us to do those things during the week that promote Christian growth and truly effective evangelism. When the Christians go home they will be built up and encouraged, and when the nonChristians go home they will have a clear experience and understanding of what the Christian community is all about. Some of them will no doubt join their friend’s youth groups because they enjoyed the experience of camp. (Obviously our hope is that many of them became followers of Jesus on camp as well!)
It is my belief that summer camps have a direct parallel with local youth ministry. Not only are they inseparable, but they are symbiotically linked and connected in the deepest possible way. With this in mind I want to suggest that many of the questions that we deal with in youth group (i.e. ‘How do we attract nonChristians?) have the same answers when we think of summer camp. Aim first to build, equip and encourage the Christian. Once we have done this they can reach their friends in a way that has spiritual integrity.
The good news is that summer is just around the corner. When you look at my backyard and the wall of snow that forbids me from seeing my backyard (no joke!), you realize that this is good news. With summer comes… summer camps! For many kids this is great news. Summer camp= horses, rope courses, rifles and water sports. Oh yeah, it also includes connecting with Jesus (or, for many, reconnecting with Jesus).
This week I want us to re-think the effectiveness of summer camp— now before you spill your coffee in view of my last comment, there are a few things you need to know.
1. I became a Christian on a camp.
2. Summer camp had a profound impact on me and my development as a person.
3. I love camps—I’ve run a lot of them (I stopped counting at 300). With these things in mind though… please allow me to probe just a bit.
I have now been in Canada for almost nine years, and am surrounded by summer camp ministries. While I love them, I must ask, “Are summer camps really that effective in reaching youth for Jesus?” I know many of you will say, “Yes, of course!” but let’s just look at the facts. When I was in Vancouver, the local youth leaders I knew may have picked up one or two youth every now and then from all the various summer camps held around British Columbia (and there are a lot of them!). But the number of converted who joined youth groups and stayed was far from staggering. Sure, one or two youth is better than no youth. However, a lot of effort goes into these camps. And, a lot of hands go up in the “Who wants to turn to Jesus” slot. The feet attached to these hands just don’t seem to make it into a local church.
Following on from this, I spoke to the former head of one camping program and she told me that, “we surveyed each and every student we could find who did our training program attached to the summer camp in the past twenty years. Only 3% of them continues to be actively involved in church.” You probably know these training programs under various names (LIT, CIT, SIT etc. It is basically “in Training” with a consonant attached.) Now I realize that this is a slightly different category to nonChristians who go to camp but it still begs the question, “Are we being effective in our summer camp ministry?”
We know that summer is a long time and can be boring, so a week away can be a great opportunity to connect with nonChristians. Therefore, we use this program to attract and (hopefully) lead nonChristians to Christ. However, as with many of our adopted youth ministry strategies, is it effective? Is it the best way to reach youth over the summer? Are they worth all the effort we put into them?
In the next few posts I want to ask two simple questions, “What is summer camp about?” And “Who is it for?” I’m striving for clarity here… Is summer camp a time for Christians to gather together and enjoy a week of summer fun? (Which is a concept fine by me.) Or is it a time to charge the Christians up during the long spiritually dry season of summer? (A good thing!) Or, is it a time to reach the nonbeliever through an active, “fun” program?
Let’s explore these questions over the next few posts.
So, you’ve no doubt heard a story like it… a youth walks into church for the first time and commits a major crime—he is wearing a baseball cap. He doesn’t realize that it’s a crime, but in the eyes of a few of the older church goers it ranks up there with spitting your chewing tobacco on the church carpet and wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt. (Although here in Saskatchewan you could probably get away with the chewing tobacco.)
An old man sees the offending cap and approaches the young man and berates him for his indolence. The youth nonchalantly looks away but inside makes a vow of steel, “I will never go to anyplace like this again…ever.”
There are two things to consider here: 1. The young man’s mother has desperately prayed and cajoled her son to come to church. He finally gave in and this was the reception he found. This is an unmitigated disaster. 2. It is my contention that we can solve this problem in the future through good youth ministry.
Good youth ministry is about producing strong disciples of Jesus—we all agree on that. Good youth ministry also leads to good adult ministry. Our goal must be to not only produce strong youth who are followers of Jesus but to equip them to be strong adults who are followers of Jesus. The youth that we presently are ministering to must grow up to be the kind of adults that are welcoming to all newcomers, hatted or not.
So let me leave you with three thoughts:
We must work, with all our effort, to produce youth who understand what it means to follow Jesus, by grace through faith.
This is where the basics of the faith really must kick in. Christianity isn’t about outward appearances, it is about a changed heart. Following Jesus is all about him and his grace towards us. Youth who know this must grow up to be adults who live this out.
Are we producing youth who are adaptable?
Our youth must be equipped to follow Christ wherever they find themselves. Not that this is easy, it isn’t. However, our goal must be to build our youth into young adults who can follow Jesus wherever they find themselves. In a foreign land or in a pub, in a church with choirs or a church that serves donuts before the sermon.
Are we producing youth who welcome outsiders?
The adults of the future must understand that church is a place of community and grace, loving relationships and joy. We are welcoming—not blind to sin mind you, but welcoming all the same. Our Lord “welcomed sinners and ate with them” (Luke 15:1-2) and so should we. Whether a baseball cap is sin or not (it isn’t by the way) is a moot point, the issue is friendliness and warmth shown towards the newcomer. Let’s make sure we begin with our own house, our groups must be welcoming and friendly places, free of unhelpful cliques and anything that hinders the newcomer from getting to know us and our message. The sad things is, some of the youth in our churches may well be more mature than that elderly man who got so angry at the hatted youth.
Let’s make sure this never ever happens again.
Part of my job is to read youth ministry books. Some are good, others are… well, the author’s mothers are proud. One thing I find in the books that come south of the 49th Parallel is some wisdom on “how to get volunteers for your youth ministry.”
Now I don’t want to knock my brothers and sisters from the lower part of the continent, but they tend to operate out of a paradigm that is just not… how do I say this… real. Sometimes it seems like it is assumed that every church is big (they aren’t) and every church has at least 30+ youth (they don’t). When it comes to getting volunteers we are told to “have the prospective volunteer fill out an application and then set a time for an interview.”
Now I’ve worked in a big church but I’ve never done business like this. Fill out a form? Have an interview? I’m wondering if we have made the whole finding volunteers, youth leaders a little bit more complicated than it really is. Finding leaders or, for many of us, developing leaders is one of our primary tasks in youth ministry.
Need#1 = maturity
The first thing the wise youth leader must do is to understand exactly what they are hoping for when it comes to developing a leadership team. What you aim for is what you’ll hit etc.. So, my first bit of advice is pretty straightforward: you want leaders who are disciples of Jesus. These disciples of Jesus will set their hearts on helping you to make disciples of Jesus (see 1 Cor. 11:1 & Phil. 4:9). Now I realize that what I’ve just said is pretty basic but… you know what? In my experience many of our churches are so desperate for leaders that they put people into leadership positions that aren’t mature disciples. It’s like that children’s soccer team that doesn’t have a coach. After finally realizing that no one is going to do it, a father says, “Heck, I’ve never played soccer but it can’t be all that difficult.” This type of thinking will doom any youth ministry. Find mature Christians. If you can’t find mature Christians the goal of your youth ministry is for you to personally spend your time ministering to a small group of people and take them to maturity. Then, presto, you have some mature leaders to help you minister to others.
Need #2= instinct
Your goal is to develop leaders that can disciple others “intuitively.” They are so in tuned with what you are doing that they merely take the reins and keep doing to others what you have done to them. Remember the words of Paul to Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it…” (2 Tim 3:14). Timothy knew the scriptures and was wise for salvation because he knew deeply those who taught him these scriptures. Timothy’s knowledge was ‘second nature’ to him.
This is our goal in ministry—to develop people who’s ‘second nature’ is to teach God’s word and to do it well.
Need #3= imitation
I want to give you the most simple way to make leaders: be like me! You find this in 1 Corinthians 11:1 where Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” You also read it in Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” The simplest form of leadership is to raise up a generation of youth who follow you. Now I know what you are thinking, “Follow me!?! No way… you don’t know me like I know me!” This is true, and I’m thankful for that… but you are wrong. You are, most likely, worthy to be imitated by someone much younger than yourself. Don’t let the Devil fool you into thinking otherwise.
With these three things in mind, put away the formal interview sheets and raise up an army of youth who will soon grow up to become that leadership team you are so desperate for. Godspeed!
Well, it was Superbowl weekend… I’m sure you were transfixed to the tube on Sunday as the two teams battled it out. That is, unless you do not care about football U.S.A. style or, your Arizona Cardinals suffered such a heartbreaking loss a few years back that you couldn’t bring yourself to watch it yet…
One thing that is obvious to even the most casual NFL fan is that a good quarterback makes the team. Good QB, good team. Lousy QB, you probably will end up with a losing record and will try to draft a good one out of college.
In youth ministry you stand or fall with your leadership team. With a good team you have a much better shot at building a solid, strong (and probably a growing) youth ministry.
So, the question begs, “How do we develop a good leadership team?” Let’s go through some big picture thoughts…and I hope to narrow it down for you in some future posts.
Leadership Development Big Picture Thought #1: Make it your goal from day one
This is not something that you stumble upon or decided to do in the future. It must start from day one. Now, this does not mean that you will have a strong team from day one, it simply means that you will begin to plan to build a team from the outset of your ministry.
What this means for you practically:
You will keep a sharp eye out for any godly, strong, able and time rich:
adults...university students...young workers (who didn’t go to university)...grade 11 or twelve youth...retired people who are ministry minded and time rich
Your goal is to not have a rotating set of volunteers who merely cook or provide transportation (although there is a place for this type of volunteer). You want Christian disciplers and role models.
Leadership Development Big Picture Thought #2: They must be on the same page as yourself
If you are a quarterback who wants to run the West Coast Offense (if you follow me…if not, just act like you understand) you need teammates who understand what you are trying to do and will support you. If you have teammates who do not support you… you will lose. It is very difficult to work with a team who does not want to follow you.
What this means for you practically:
You will seek to develop a base of volunteers leaders who understand what you are trying to do and will be skilled in supporting and carrying out your vision. This means you may need to be patient and work to build this team. It may take a year or three.
One thing to note:
While what I have just written is really pretty straightforward, it is very difficult to do. It takes time, prayer, training, and lots of Bible study with your future leaders.
So, with this in mind, begin now. Find a group of people (youth?) that you think can help you out in a year or two and begin a small group Bible study. Or, join a young adults group that you think has some potential youth leaders. You could even join or lead a home group of adults. Get to know them, if you are the leader, teach the Bible to this group. I would suggest you take the group through Paul’s letters where the gospel is clearly explained and how we are to live in light of it. Discover together what it means to be a disciple and to carry the cross as you do a study from the Gospel of Luke. Take a few months and go through 2 Timothy together to discover what it means to be a leader.
As you do this, you will fire up some people to help you take your first steps towards a strong youth ministry.