Barriers to a healthy youth ministry (part 1 of 3)

youth ministry growth barriersThis will be a three post series in which we explore together the barriers in youth ministry.

What barriers are you facing in your ministry right now? What’s the one thing that’s holding back the youth ministry you lead that if it changed, the ministry would tip toward health?

Maybe find a scrap piece of paper and a pen and scratch out some of the things that come to mind. I’ll wait, go ahead.

Seriously. I’ll wait.

Ok. All the stuff you scrawled onto the page, circle the one, the big one, the key issue.

What is it? What did you write? Are you brave/crazy enough to toss it into the comments below?

This isn’t a set up.

Didn’t write anything? I understand. Really, I do. I won’t take it personally. But I am for you and would love to go on a journey (a three post journey) with you.

Once you’ve posted your thoughts, it’s cool to read the others, but don’t peek. This isn’t a test. Your answers are your answers.

Posted on August 11, 2011

  • Robbie Mackenzie

    I think a potential barrier to any youth ministry may be organizational differences (i.e. what a youth ministry should be/do) between a youth ministry staff and his or her elders/pastor/board etc.

    • Robbie… i love this response.. can I challenge/encourage you make it more personal? maybe just by tweaking it a bit… change "any" to "my" if you feel it's true. this will help you get the most of our journey… know what I mean?

      • Robbie Mackenzie

        Sorry bro. Totally understand. It "is" a barrier to my ministry.

        • absolutely no need to apologize :)
          thanks for being courageous enough to share your journey with the rest of us!

  • Brad

    defining and casting a Christ centered vision for ministry in an entertainment driven church culture…..yeaup

  • Sandy

    My biggest barrier is the lack of support from my church community. Everyone expecits a dynamic program but in Middle School, I have ZERO….I'm not exaggerating…..ZERO volunteers!! It is me with 30-50 6th, 7th, and 8th graders!! I may get a parent who wanders in and stays one night but they don't usually come back. The response I get is "this just isn't an age group I enjoy". I have sent out surveys, put letters in our bulletin asking for help, emailed and called people I think would be great but still…..ZERO!

    I'm at a loss…. I have tried to create a core team of volunteers (which my pastor has demanded I do this year), I have tried to set up rotating schedule of volunteers, believe me…I've tried everything! I'm not perfect, I know that when a parent does wander in to see what is going on, I am at a loss as to what to have them do. Usually I have them do "crowd control" and give them small group questions to discuss with half the group. (I love small group but never get to have them :(


    • thanks for sharing Sandy, I'm glad you're on this 3 part journey with us. I don't know when Tim will post the remaining 2 posts, but stay tuned…
      thanks for being sharing your barriers.

      • I'll get them both posted next week. It's important stuff to think through, especially before the school year starts again.

    • Sandy brings up a good point. Volunteers don't seem to understand how valuable it is for them just to come hang out with the kids. When you tell them that is what you want them to do – they rune for the hills!

  • Mark, great question to stir passion within youth workers. I can only come up with one thing that would completely revolutionize our student ministry… the eradication of apathy. If our students would own their faith our ministry, schools, and city would never be the same. I'm hungry for it. Our adult mentors are hungry for it. I will continue to push in with anticipation and expectation that it is coming.

    Thanks for the great question!

    • One of the biggest barriers I am facing right now is the turn-over of families that come to our church. Our church is a "new church" (only a year and 4 months old and under 100 attending) and I was sent to start the youth ministry here about a year ago. New families visit because we are a "new" church, but don't stay because they find out fast that we worship the (reverently speaking) "old" God. Sadly, when the parents decide to leave because the "new" church isn't really "new" after all, their kids go with them. We don't have the means to bus them in (although I would love that), and aside from the senior pastor we are a volunteer staff with full time jobs, so we are pretty much dependent on families to bring youth in.

  • Two. words: apathetic parents.

    • Wesley

      Eric. I see that not only in my students parents, but also the students themselves.

  • One of the biggest barriers I have is a " leadership" within the church who thinks every ministry should be "Sunday Centered." I am asked often, more in my early days, why can't you get all those kids to come on Sunday morning? I want to say, "you'd have a heart attack if they did" or "why would they want too?" We have a very traditional church. My response is always, "I'm just happy I have them on Wednesday nights!" I was told this was not the goal, and several of our leaders have removed their support for me and our ministry because of the mindset I have. Yet our youth program continues to grow and be healthy, on Wednesday nights.

  • Wesley

    My biggest barrier is apathy of the students. I have even allowed them as a group to plan an activity themselves and they still have no interest. This is by far the toughest group that I have had in the 17 years of being in youth ministry. Although, I look at the parents and see the same apathy within them also.

  • Michelle

    I admit that I peeked before posting my comment…and I feel much the same as Wesley. However, my biggest barrier is that we have a very traditional church with 75% of our congregation over the age of 50. We have a very small group of younger adults, teens, and children. People say they want a younger congregation, but we continue to do things the same traditional way. Our church has shrunk in the 13 years I've been here from worshipping 200 a week to 110 a week. The biggest age group we have lost is those under 40. They are apathetic, I believe, because they do not feel valued.

    • angelarines

      yes, agreed!

  • angelarines

    In my ministry, it is a lack of an integrated faith. For many of my students, church is just something they go to. I have been told by students that their faith doesn't make a difference at all in how they live life. At least they are honest I guess. This has led to some deep systemic issues I am now wading through with the group.

  • Sarah

    For a long time the youth of my church have not web considered as a valuable part of the church family. the numbers were very small when I started the position and has now grown considerably but unfortunately the attitude has stayed the same. I think until our church begins to view the youth not only as important but as incredibly valuable we won't reach a point where we will see the desired effect of the youth (souls being saved AND discipled)

  • love all the comments and participation so far… thanks for going on this journey with the rest of us..

  • David

    My biggest barrier is feeling like I'm failing. Maybe its from expectations that come from the church. I took over 2 yrs ago and the church was in shambles, no youth pastor for 2yrs, no sr. pastor for almost 1 yr. Half the church left. Its been a struggle to get students/families excited, committed. We have had some really good things happen. In conversation I found out the expectation was to have around 35-45 kids by now. That woould be great but given all the circumstances and where we are as a church, its a bit unrealistic. I knew taking thisn position was not going to be easy, and its not! But i know it is God who placed us here and that is what I cling to.

    • God has a plan…. you are truly making a difference, you may not know it, but showing that you are committed to the ministry God has provided for you eventually you will see the fruits that will be produced…. Maybe not right a way but they will come. Stay strong David.

  • Tammy

    My barrier this year is merging the Jr and Sr high groups back together after them being separate for several years. Merging the ages in cirriculum and relationships….although the relationships seem to be the difficult part at this point.

  • What are the blindspots in my ministry and the church? If i take a leap of faith, what happened in the past in this church that will cause my vision to fly into the abyss of bad ideas… (

  • RyanD

    Co-leaders. We have a Friday Night middle school group. The students love it… but it's REALLY tough to get adults to commit to Friday nights. Right now, it's not an environment conducive to relationships… because the we're constantly rotating leaders, and, more weeks than not, we have too few.

  • Pingback: Barriers to a healthy youth ministry (part 3 of 3) | Life In Student Ministry()

  • Adult leaders who see working in the youth ministry as chaperoning or babysitting rather than intentional ministry through connecting.

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