7 Things to Stop Doing to Grow Your Youth Group

I just started at my church a little more than six months ago and we have a long way to go before I'd say that we’re winning consistently. But we’re making progress every month and we’ve nearly tripled in size in that time (of course, we started with 10).

And while we’ve certainly done some things that they had not been doing previously, the things we STOPPED doing have made a much larger impact.

First, let me say that there is no judgment.  I probably fall into a few of these bad habits from time to time too and I have done ALL of them at one point or another.  What this list does do is take away our excuses.  Much of the time, it’s not them, it’s us.

So, here's a list of 7 things (in no particular order) you should STOP doing to help your group grow deeper and wider.

Stop Preparing One Week Ahead

I understand the tyranny of the urgent. And I've definitely been in a position where time to plan was limited. I've been an intern, part-time, bi-vocational and full time. But I know that when I am planning only one week ahead, the quality of what we do suffers. Last-minute planning does 3 things:

  1. The best ideas don't have time to surface. Think crockpot vs. microwave,

  2. You don't steward your budget as well. If you're like most of us, your budget is not bottomless. I recently was buying something on Amazon for our event next month and they gave me a $1 credit because I chose the slowest shipping option! A free $1!  Can’t do that when you’re not planning ahead.
  3. You frustrate your faithful volunteers. Some of your volunteers NEED to know details ahead of time so that they can visualize what will happen. They need times, instructions, supplies etc. to feel comfortable enough to build disciple-making relationships. Plus, forcing yourself to provide these details will make you more intentional and spend money more wisely. Win. Win. Win. We use Planning Center Online to schedule our gatherings and assign roles to volunteers.

So, do what you need to do.  Take a week off and get ahead.  Even consider asking your volunteers to take over for a week or two so you can get a few weeks ahead.  Get ahead and then, stay ahead!

Stop Doing Everything Yourself

As a pastor, your biblical mandate is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Just because you get a paycheck every other week doesn't mean that you need to do all the work yourself.

The truth is, you can go further faster by equipping others and you’re probably not that great at planning fun games and fundraising and planning your budget.  Get help.

You can reach more students, more effectively, more quickly by helping others find their unique place in ministry.  And from a place of practicality, you simply don’t have all the time and bandwidth to plan everything yourself and still have it be excellent.

And, if I can be honest, if you’re insistent on doing everything yourself, you’re probably better as a team member, not a team leader.

Stop Posting Randomly on Social Media

If you’re gonna use social media to promote and celebrate your ministry, then you should do so on purpose.  Just because your students post things randomly, doesn’t mean you need to.  Here are a few things that will boost your social media impact:

  1. Post when students are most active.  Students check social media first thing in the morning, right after school and throughout the evening.  Posting an Instagram photo at 11:30 probably isn’t reaching as many people as you could.

  2. Follow the students who follow your students.  It may sound a bit like stalking, but it allows your students friends to see the great things that are happening in your ministry.  It gives your students a way to break the ice when inviting their friends. You may even find those students inviting themselves!
  3. Post pictures with faces, not just ads.  If your profile is just a rolling billboard, people will ignore it.
  4. Use hashtags for your events and encourage students to use them when posting their own images.  It gets the students involved, gives them ownership, and you reach exponentially more people when you engage their followers.
  5. Create a social media strategy for every event.  Use Instagram/Tumbler to tease events weeks in advance and Facebook groups to make sure parents get vital info. Write it out ahead of time and don’t miss posting deadlines that you promise.

Stop Doing a Junior Church

It’s easy to replicate what we see on Sunday mornings and just tweak a few small things to make it “cool” for our students.  It’s harder to create something unique.

If your church expects students to participate in the main services and you have simply done a youth version of that, one of two things will happen.  Either, the students won’t come to main service because yours is “more relevant” to them (and it probably is, but that isn’t the point) and that will put you at odds with your senior leadership.  Or, your students will see your ministry as superfluous and therefore not attend, or attend either or when it best suits them, leaving them disconnected from both.

For example, we do worship, but not every week, and often as a way to end the night.  Also, we do TED-style messages that are actually designed to feed group discussions.  And because we meet Sunday nights and most of our students attend Sunday mornings, we feel the pressure to do something unique.

Stop Teaching Knowledge But No Skills

It’s easy to pass out facts.  It’s harder to help your students learn real skills that will last a lifetime.  Think about the number of truly life-changing sermons you’ve heard in your life.  More than a handful or two?

But who was the one who taught you to study and love the bible?  Who taught you how to pray or to worship or to serve?  

When we impart faith skills, our students stand a better chance of maintaining their faith into adulthood.  The definition of milk includes a substance that has been preprocessed by another animal.  You can’t get real meat from a sermon.

In our ministry, we teach S.O.A.P. journaling and we weave it into how we do our small groups.  We believe that if students can master spiritually feeding themselves, they will feed others and have a less consumer-driven mentality toward the Church,  

Stop Using Your Volunteers to Accomplish Your Vision

Your volunteers aren’t there to fulfill your vision for what the ministry should be.  They are servants, but they aren’t your servants. This is the one that I’ve been most guilty of in the past, and trust me, I’ve burned bridges that are difficult to repair.

Honor the people who choose to work with you.  Give them roles of significance.  Appreciate them often and publicly.  If you don’t, you will burn them out before they reach their peak effectiveness and you won’t be able to recruit the best people.

Stop Spending So Much Time With Students

I know.  You got into youth ministry to minister to youth.  That’s awesome.  I love spending time with them too.  But if that’s what you spend more than 20% of your time doing, than you should be a volunteer on someone else’s team or be satisfied being the cap on your ability to reach more students.

I typically spend 4-5 hours per week with our students.  I work closely with our student leadership team (currently three students), but not much outside of that.  I no longer go to all the plays, games, or birthday parties.  But I go to some.  Instead, I empower our team to go to all those things for their kids.

You can’t be THE be all and end all influence in the lives of all your students.  At least, not if you ever want to grow beyond about 30 students.  I find that’s about how many students I can realistically keep track of like I’d want to.  At that point, I am forced to multiply myself.

By Brad Gouwens
YGC Content Contributor
Student Pastor at River Oak Grace