1.) Communicate with Parents
Parents have always been essential to youth ministry but these days that's becoming increasingly more important for us to recognize. Students get their licenses later and later. Teenagers are increasingly dependent on their parents for rides and money. These two factors have an enormous amount of influence on teen's schedules. It's time to start partnering with parents, helping them to see why youth ministry is important, and keeping them in the loop so they can remind their teens to go to youth.
2.) Form and Meet Monthly with a Leadership Board
I'm tempted to call this THE BEST youth ministry practice. Of course, there are so many to choose from and so many depend on each other operating together. I digress. Form a leadership board! You are such a better leader when you're leading as a team. God has historically spoken through and to groups of people. The Church is meant to operate and exist in community.
Forming a leadership board with your committed youth leaders and giving them the ability to shoot down your bad ideas and brainstorm great ideas is an incredible gift to you and to them. My youth leaders actually had better weekly youth attendance than I did. In other words, I took vacation days and they didn't. They took ownership of the ministry and they rocked it!
Monthly meetings also force YOU to plan and be on top of your game. They provide you with accountability AND they help emphasize prayer and fellowship within your ministry team. On top of this it's an opportunity to equip, encourage, and love your youth leaders. If you're not doing this - start doing this. It had a tremendous impact on my ministry and my leaders experienced personal spiritual growth through it too.
3.) Track Attendance like a Boss
How many times has Zach Wilson been to your youth ministry in the last month? How many times has he been to your youth ministry in the last 6 months? What about the last year? Is his attendance trend increasing or decreasing? Does he come to Sunday school or midweek more often? What was his longest streak of attendance? Is he more or less likely than other students to go to special events?
We started tracking attendance this way - knowing not just how many students were coming but also which students were coming. And when parents would say that their students weren't getting much out of youth ministry, we could tell them that coming more than once a month might change that. More importantly, we could send students yearly reports and they could see their stats. We also tinkered with the idea of awarding badges to our students (like we see employed in video games). This practice went a long way in helping students have an accurate understanding of their participation. It can be very sobering for students to realize they've only shown up half the year and just imagine how helpful it is for parents to see too.
4.) Be Highly Relational
The majority of Christians are Christians today because of a relationship with someone else. This shouldn't surprise us - it's always been God's plan for discipleship. A highly relational youth ministry means that you're not just inviting students to your events but you're seeking out their events. This gives you an awesome opportunity to invite a student to something you've planned without them feeling like the only reason you want them there is to increase your numbers. Share life with your students, invite them on errands, give blood with them, take them out for coffee, go to events at their school and give them rides. Set the bar high for your leaders and make them understand this essential aspect to ministry too. This must be a precedent. No excuses.
5.) Rely on God
"Ministry without prayer is the highest form of arrogance." I'm not sure who the original author of this quote is but I am sure that it's true. You cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit apart from the Holy Spirit. Every meaningful youth ministry is a prayerful youth ministry. What's born of the flesh is flesh and what's born of the Spirit is spirit. If you want to have any spiritual impact on your students you absolutely must rely on God.
What does God want to say to your students? Invite Him into your sermon development process. Invite Him before your weekly events to move powerful through your students and to use you as you speak with your students.
6.) Create Opportunities for Students to Experience God
You have to be willing to take risks in this business. You must be willing to allow God to be put on the hot seat. So often we hold back from challenging students to listen to God or to spend time in solitude with God. So often we neglect to inform students that they can pray for very specific things and watch God answer. So often we fail to provide our students with real opportunities for them to personally experience and connect with God. Why? Because we're afraid of what might happen if God doesn't answer. Instead of thinking of it as "putting God in the hot seat" - think of it as putting God in the spotlight. You don't have to be afraid to let go of control and trust God to do what's best.
7.) Plans are Useless but Planning is Indispensabl
Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said that "In battle, plans are useless but planning is indispensable." The same is true for youth ministry. There are always nights when we need to be flexible, adaptable, and change our plans according to our circumstances but that doesn't mean that we stop planning ahead. When you're fully prepared for a night of youth ministry you can also be fully present with your students that night. When you're fully prepared for a night of youth ministry you'll be better able to think on your feet, to run smooth event, and to give students your best self.
Would you take anything off this list and substitute it for something else? What's missing that absolutely must be represented? I'd love to hear your thoughts.