I need to tell you from the outset that I’m a hopeless carpenter. I don’t know if it was my propensity for bumping my head as a child that caused some synapse malfunction or merely some faulty DNA, but my brain doesn’t allow me to build even the simplest of structures. That is, when it comes to earthly structures. However, I can give a bit of wisdom when it comes to building youth groups, and here is your main thought as you start out (or continue) in youth ministry: don’t try to build a temple by first building a beach house.

I want to ask you to take a look at 1 Corinthians 3:10-17.

This great section of scripture teaches us a ton about building a solid youth ministry, but let’s just concentrate on just a couple of things from this passage. First of all, notice that what is being built is a temple (v. 16-17). It is not a recreation center nor a beach house—it is a mighty temple of God’s Spirit! Note the second thing: there is a wide choice of building materials and we must use those things that will withstand fire on the day of judgment (v. 12). The bottom line is this: how we build our youth ministries, and the materials we use are of primary importance. This, fellow youth ministers leads me to our …

Two golden rules that must guide our path

What you start out with is what you want to continue doing in the future.

What is used to attract youth must be the same as what is used to keep youth.

Now these two rules will, in effect, dictate much of what you do as you begin your youth group. You do not start with one program (designed to attract the hordes) and then hope to shift into a more ‘godly, spiritually mature’ program once they get switched on. This is the oldest of youth ministry myths and, quite frankly, it doesn’t work.

Nor do you want to attract young people with one thing (a ‘fun program’) and then hope that they will find out about Jesus and stay because of him. Again, this type of program has been tried and found wanting. This is a case of “building with straw, in hopes that they will turn to gold.” (Didn’t the alchemists of an era long ago believe that you could build a machine that would turn straw into gold? This is simply the youth ministry equivalent!)

You simply must decide what type of program you can run that will help the youth to get to know Jesus better. The rule is simple, if you want a group that takes the Bible seriously, you must have solid Bible teaching from day one. If you want a group that helps students to rely on Jesus in prayer, make sure you pray from the first meeting—you don’t suddenly “discover prayer” sometime around week 30. If love is to be a defining characteristic of your group, make sure that you yourself are a loving person, the leaders or volunteers are loving, and, that you run activities that promote genuine love.

So, here’s your homework:

  1. Look at your program, is it built with straw or gold?
  2. Take another look: is your program designed to build a temple or a beach house of straw?
  3. Are you running a weekly program that will be similar to the one you hope to run in five years time?
  4. Finally, are the activities that make up your program the same ones you want your youth to be undertaking in the future (or, are you hoping that there is some ‘magic shift’ that occurs causing them to suddenly become spiritual)?