Starting a youth ministry for only one teenager

I got this email a couple weeks ago and was encouraged by the recipient to share my response publicly. Feel free to chime in your two cents, as well. Here ya go!

We moved to a very small town in KY this summer and are attending the church my parents go to because of the people there. The problem is our daughter (6th grade) is the only youth in the church…. We tried going to a church a town over that had a youth group, but the people were not very friendly. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle the single youth church? I end up teaching her Sunday school class, like your article said about teaching the ones who are there, but it is hard to find someone willing to give up going to Sunday School to teach just one child. Do you suggest to keep trying other churches? We have suggested they hire a part time youth director (the church is inheriting a sizable sum) to find other kids in the community. Any other ideas to get other adults involved or to make sure our daughter gets the knowledge she needs? We do a devotion each night at home, but I think having other adults help with her Christian education is a good idea.

I totally understand your situation because I grew up in a church with a story similar to yours. The only difference was that I wasn’t the only teenager because I had a couple of my brothers with me.

While it’s honorable that you see the value in youth ministry and are striving to start one in your church, I must say that there’s nothing wrong with not having your daughter in a youth group. Many parents have raised their teenagers quite well without the influence of a church youth ministry. If your main reason for wanting to have a youth group is just so your daughter had some cool activities to do with some Christian friends, I’d tell you not to start it because it will probably cause you more headaches than anything else with that kind of purpose in mind (even if that purpose isn’t the one that’s explicitly stated). However, it seems that your reason for wanting a youth group is because you know that other adults can leave a big spiritual impact on your daughter’s life. That I agree with 100% because that’s how I got kick started in youth ministry in the first place. An adult from a local high school campus ministry started meeting with me for lunch, picking me up to tag along as he did normal errands and meetings, and eventually his passion for students became contagious. It’s because of that relationship that I’m in youth ministry today, not because I grew up in some dynamic youth group.

For you guys, I would recommend not pushing the youth group thing if that’s not a huge need of your church. Instead, I would push the adult relationships. If your daughter has one or two adult women she seems to enjoy and respect at church, ask those ladies if they’d be interested in spending time with your daughter outside of church. If your daughter doesn’t seem to naturally connect with any adults there, pick a couple Godly ladies yourself and talk with them about investing into your daughter. Maybe start by having a “girls night out” where you and those ladies just go do something fun together. Invite your daughter along as if she’s one of the “big girls.” As she starts to feel comfortable with them, start to back out a little and let your daughter go alone with them. Also, if you’re involved in a women’s bible study, take your daughter to that. Furthermore, find unique ways she can serve the body as the only teenager in the church in order to teach her that youth ministry isn’t just what the church does for her, but youth ministry is youth doing ministry.

Essentially, forget the youth ministry thing and pull her up to the adult ministry stuff where that eventually becomes the “youth ministry” to her. Hope that helps a little. God bless you guys!

Posted on February 19, 2008

  • Great response Tim. I completely agree. Far more important than cool activities are healthy relationships with adults. I might also add, find ways for her to serve within the overall life of the church. She needs to feel as much ownership in the church as the adults do.

  • I would agree. Having the adult relationships will accomplish more for the girl than having “youth group activities.” You might be able to connect with other youth groups to join in on some bigger activities or events. But I would focus on getting her connected in the church and with the people.

  • Depending on the schedule of others churches in the area you may be able to get the best of both worlds. You could find a church that has a youth service on a different night than your own and let her attend that. Then you could have her with adults mainly in your church and she would get good spiritual interaction with her peers and with adults. One of the good things about having a youth group is that there are other teenage Christians that you can walk through your life with. So connecting with another local church might help supplement the relationships that are missing where you are.

  • GiGi

    keep in mind also that most denominations have a youth ministry at the state or regional level–perhaps she could get involved that way.

  • Lisa

    When I was a kid my sister and I were the only youth at our church. So, like Shane posted, we went to a different church for their youth-nite services. Since we lived in the country there were still not very many kids at that church, maybe 10-15-tops.

    Now my husband and I lead the youth group at that very church that was my harbor, back-in-the-day. The church is still small and has fewer kids than when I went there. On average we have around 5 on Wednesday nights at the Youth meeting.

    I know that it can be tough to figure out what to do either way, but let me encourage you to take the advice that the others have given concerning adult relationships (same gender).

    But build on that, by thinking of new believers as a group–if your daughter goes to (public/privet) school then she may have a core group of friends that attend other churches–Then pick a bible study or discussion idea that they think would be cool and have your own youth style event as an outreach that your church provides for your community (perhaps monthly or during the summer). Vicky Courtney, Hayley DiMarco, Dannah Gresh, etc all have great studies that can be used for small groups. You can also use many of the Hayley DiMarco books for a weekend and the study guides are available free @, I plan on use one with the girls in my community this summer.

    Blessings to you!

  • I agree with the responses above, that the Youth Ministry should not be created to just have fun. But don’t keep fun activities out of the Youth Ministry, because they can be the very thing that sparks an interest from a youth, and get them invovled in the Youth Ministry. But the key to having the Fun Events, is to know what your purpose is for having it. I use them to get prospective youth names that are unchurched in the community.

  • I’m Tim’s brother and so I went to the same youth group he did growing up with very few kids. I did learn a lot through youth group, but during that time [7th-9th grade] the person that had the most impact on my life was a Christian man in our church named Norman Greb who would often invite my brothers and I to work with him doing light construction through the year. We worked hard and ate lunch together, talking a lot of the time. No pressure of bonding or forced meeting assigned for him to impact my life just being around him and watching his life taught me far more than I remember from youth group about godly manhood. I know peer interaction is needed, as well as bible teaching, but if you daughter was anything like me I’m sure there are ladies in the church/her life that she is already watching and looking up to. See if you can find out who those ladies are and ask them is they will have your daughter tag along on daily activities, like Tim said he did with a youth worker.

  • Great response Tim. Youth ministry for one? I think they call that mentoring. That experience will probably be more memorable than playing chubby bunny and the like.

    She can always go to a friend’s church for events and activities and to meet Christ followers in her school.

  • Great responses all around. I would like to hear a report of what this girl thinks five year from now or even ask her to keep us updated with a month to month post of adults that are impacting her life and how. Not to go all Truman on her but I would find it interesting.

    Paul Turner

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