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Ten tips for starting a church youth group ministry

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My blog statistics indicate that many people find my site when searching for topics related to starting a church youth group. Unfortunately, I don’t actually have too much posted that addresses this issue specifically, until now. Here’s a very basic structure of how a church might go about starting a youth ministry. (Other youth workers please feel free to chime in with your input.)

1. Pray. Fervently seek the Lord to guide the entire process, provide the necessary ideas and thoughts to make it all happen for His glory.

2. Put together a small core team of students, parents and volunteers who believe in teenagers and have heart for reaching them for Christ. Gather together and pray for wisdom, guidance and direction for this new ministry.

3. Develop a vision and direction with this core team. Answer some of these questions together: Why are we starting this group? Who specifically do we intend to reach? Where do we want to be this time next year? In five years? What kind of atmosphere do we intend to create for the students relationally and spiritually?

4. Based on your answers, formulate a strategy for accomplishing these things. How are we going to get to where God’s called you to be? For example, if your group is led to specifically target unchurched students at Smith High School, how are you going to connect with them, addressing both their felt and actual needs? What environment will allow you to communicate most effectively with these people?

5. Communicate the strategy with the church leadership when it is clear, written down and understood by all those on the core team. Make any revisions as you both deem to be necessary.

6. Assign roles and responsibilities to each of the team members involved for fulfilling the strategy. Determine launch dates for each aspect of the ministry. It’s always better to do a few things well than lots of things mediocre, so give yourself the freedom to launch in only a one or two areas and build from there as the group solidifies.

7. Share your values and strategy with the church body as a whole sometime before the launch. There may be some people in the congregation who have contradictory opinions and values, but that’s fine. Just listen to what they have to say, respect their opinion and let them know that you value their input. There will be many more who are excited and will support you 110%.

8. Launch the ministry and have fun! Constantly drench yourselves in prayer. Recruit other volunteers as necessary and get them on board with your vision and strategy. Teach them to habitually pray for the youth ministry, too.

9. After six months or so, reevaluate your values, goals and strategy and make whatever tweaks are necessary. What’s been working well that should continue? What isn’t serving its purpose and needs to be cut? What are the success stories God’s had through your work? How is the ministry progressing in the direction you set and what are the next steps for taking it where it still needs to go?

10. Implement any necessary changes and proceed accordingly. Remember to pray, pray, and pray harder. The only way this ministry will genuinely succeed is if you’re saturated in prayer, always following the Lord’s direction and input for His ministry through you.


Posted on March 8, 2007

  • http://blog.likeafire.net Paul

    Great thoughts Tim, as always. About number 8 though, maybe you and I, given the current state of prayer I have been seeing could go in on a joint venture. How much do you think people would pay for buckets of prayer to drench themselves in? Given my current prayer life (and probably yours with the move), I think we could be millionaires in no time.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    Yeah… or maybe we could do a fundraiser by selling indulgences. ;)

    Glad to hear your prayer life has increased through your transition. I know mine has! Guess that’s probably why God takes us out of our comfort zone from time to time and forces us to completely depend on Him.

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  • http://jaycurlee.blogspot.com Jason Curlee

    Great Advice Tim…you advice hear is totally sound…hear is my thought on number three…and this might just be a little word play…

    As the student ministry will be a part of the much larger church, a vision for it has already been established. There should only be one vision. One of the roles of a student ministry is to help fulfill the vision of the church.

    Now envisioning what could happen and what could be is a huge thing to do as you develop that core team.

    My advice would be in developing a mission and strategy that leads the student ministry in fulfilling the vision of the church.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    Yeah Jason, I totally agree. I probably should’ve specified that a little clearer. However, I think every ministry within the church also needs to have their own vision that they take ownership for, something that obviously compliments and supports the church’s overall vision, though. These individual ministry visions should be specific to their target audience whereas the church’s vision is more of a general overarching vision.

  • http://jaycurlee.blogspot.com Jason Curlee

    Exactly Tim…like I said we do need to have a vision for what we are doing…and it is about terminology…Our main vision is to support the vision of the house…Here is how I thought it out.

    At Church of Hope where I am…our vision statement is to Reach, Raise and Restore broken lives.

    Our mission statement for Elevate Student Ministries is to RAISE up teens, to REACH the world, RESTORING them to SERVE others and OFFER their lives to God.

    Everything we do flows through that mission statement which I believe fulfills that vision.

    Now I have a vision for a large student ministry, a vision for teens to reach their friends and to have a student ministry that is making a huge difference.

    So it is all about terminology. We do need to have a vision for our ministry but when it gets down to the strategic planning, which I thought was great that you added in, we have got to be careful because there is a danger of creating a silo within the bigger picture. That often happens in student ministry.

    Keep up all the great work. I have seen a great turn in your writing here. You are doing a fantastic job.

  • Marie

    I found this article to be true and very helpful. Thank you for the much needed strategic insight.

    My husband and I recently moved from “the middle of no-where (country)
    ” to a larger city. Our youth group “in the country” grew from 12 to 150 in our seven years of ministry there. We were very blessed.

    However, now my husband is the senior pastor of our new church and I am to be the volunteer youth pastor. Which I am both excited and nervous, bringing passion and dependence. Anyway, the dynamics are totally different here than where we were. There are now at least ten schools to pull from instead of just one. The kids and families here have their own lives; being involved in sports and lots of extracurr. activities. Its just different. So I am thinking that the strategy has to be different as well.

    We have approximately 8 youth in the new church. They are excited and know that the ministry is about to begin. I want to start it right and as you say, drenched in prayer and guidance from the Lord.

    What are your thoughts/tips as far as the different dynamics go?

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    @ Marie: I actually just moved from a city youth group to a more country one this past February, so I kinda made the opposite move you did and am also noticing the drastic differences. (Of course, I’m in a different part of the US now, which contributes a lot of changes, as well.) What I have in this article is generic enough to apply to both city and country youth groups. Concerning your question specifically, though, I think you’ve picked up on a few of the differences already, but ultimately it all comes down to the same thing: love on the kids, earn their respect and trust, speak Truth into their lives and everything will flow from there.

  • http://withoutwallscc.org Fred Green

    Tim, your advice is great. Our church just started our youth group and it is growing. It started with about 4 a month ago and now it’s about 20 and more youth are telling their friends. I’m exicited about that, but also scared. We don’t have a youth Pastor just a lady who felt led of God to work with them and get it started. A lot of the youth are unchurched and haven’t really been in a church enviroment, thus at times they are a little roudy and loud. I don’t want to scare them off by being to hard on them, but at the sametime I want order.

    What do you suggest we do to handle this? I know we need to establish rules for the kids, but how do you say I love you and want to reach you without being mean to them. Case and point: One kid is always talking, but when told he needs to settle down one night, he got upset and felt like he was always being picked on. I talked to him later and he said if he wanted to be yelled at he could just stay at home and get that from his step dad.

    Also, If someone can help me with picking some type of order of service, so to say. Currently, we allow them time from 6pm to 6:45 to play in our game room, then come over to the Sanctuary for Worship at 7:00pm with the rest of the church, them after priase and worship they go back and have a bible study session with the leader.

    Help! I know we have many hurdles to overcome. We have done most of the steps you have listed, but need more help. Or if you, or anyone who reads this post know of a Youth Pastor near Eureka, Missouri who has some free time that can help out it would be great.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    Hey Fred! Glad this could help a little. Based on the unchurched nature of your group, my recommendation would be to address the kids where they’re at. It sounds like you’re trying to start a program rather than a ministry. (Jesus ministry wasn’t a program.) Having order is fine and good because that’s what makes you comfortable and feel like you’re in control, but maybe for these kids, in a world that’s nothing but pressure and order all day long, maybe what they need is a safe place to hang out, relax, be themselves and even be roudy and noisy, regardless of if that makes the adults a little uncomfortable. I know to you it feels like you’re losing control, but if you earn the respect and trust of students through the process, you actually gain more “control” and the right to be heard in their lives. You gain the trust to be the voice of Jesus in their lives. Focus on building relationships with these kids one-on-one more than anything else.

    For the “problem kids,” again, meet them where they’re at rather than trying to make them conform to what you think is best. If this kid continually talks, use that to your advantage and facilitate a discussion on a topic instead of teaching with a lecture style. Or put them in small groups. Or even better yet, sit down with him one-on-one and just listen. Let him talk. His response to your rebuke proves that he needs an outlet to talk and he’s not getting it anywhere else.

  • http://www.wiredyouthministriesinc.piczo.com Glenn

    Hey crew!

    Youth ministry is indeed a pretty wierd combination of things. It’s challenging, fun, exciting and exhilerating, sometimes roll on the floor hillarious, yet at times, desperately discouraging and heartbreaking. It’ll keep you young at heart, yet give you grey hair – or no hair.
    Every second is completely worth it however. It is an honour and a privilege
    to have a calling on your life to pour into and invest in this incredible emerging generation of yong people. We can not love them enough or pour enough time, effort, energy or resources into them. They are truly amazing ! They are NOT just the church of the future. Each of them are a vital and integral part of our church right here right now. We need them and they need us.

    My experience in over 20 years of youth ministry is to let God build the group.
    That only happens through waiting upon God and seeking His face, hearing His voice and then proceeding in obedience.

    Don’t fall into the trap of ” maintaining a program” or merely creating a little
    entertainment fun club. It’s shallow and very temporary, it lacks true purpose and depth. There’s enough “entertainment” out there and most of them are overstimulated already. Give em some real substance !!!

    Get them hungry for God !!! Teens absolutely love to eat. This is true physically ( so make sure you have a big food budget ! ) but it’s also true spiritually. Get them hungry for the Word and each week let them chow down on just enough so they want more. Pretty soon they’ll be coming to you telling you that their ” youth night” is the highlight of their week.

    Pray with your teens and have them pray with and for eachother. Make it a priority each week. Pretty soon your prayer time will become the most precious time of your evenings together.

    Put your youth group out there where your congregation can see them, let the adults know what God is doing. Get them out in the eye of your town, neighbourhood or community as a witness and testimony.

    Give your teens “ownership” of their group, involve everybody, create a huge sense of belonging and value.

    More than anything remember – it’s HIS ministry not yours. Give HIM all the praise and glory !!!!!

    Just a few ” tips” that I pray will encourage some of you guys out there !!

    Pastor Glenn,

    W.I.R.E.D. Youth Ministries Inc.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim

    Glen, that’s awesome input. Thanks!

  • Tammy

    Thanks for these tips. My husband and I were approached at church this week (1st by the parents), then by a group of about 6 junior highers. WE are one of the only young married couples. We have an 8 month old. When my friends ask us why we go to this church when there are no young people, we have replied that it starts with young people going. (we are both in our late 20’s). I am a high school teacher and he is a county planner, commuting at hour away. We don’t want to overextend ourselves. We like the church philosopy, the pastor, and it is my husband’s childhood church. The only youth targeted is a children’s ministry for the little ones. The stray older sisters and brothers are going to other youth groups, or not at all. We are prayerfully considering this option. My husband is concerned because it seems like it is only girls at this time, and because the pastor did not approach us, but the parents directly. Also- we are just not sure where to start. This was a helpful article and it looks like we will need to engage in lots of conversations and praying!

  • SusanSingleton

    I am a youth leader and you have to let us determine the mission and goal. We want to empower change, we want to be important in what we do – we don’t want to be dictated (nudged okay:). Whether it is raising money to go to Central America to help build communities and churches to helping our own local community, let us be an important of the entire process. The more ownership we have to more we will participate.

    And also, embrace the Internet! What better way to spread our mission than by tapping into our online network. We use Qlubb.com to organize our events/activities. We use Facebook to create networks of like-minded youth.

  • Isaiah

    Could i get more information on my mail please its been helpful thanks and Gods blessings

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Isaiah: I don’t really have more info to send you, but you might want to consider applying for a personal one-on-one youth ministry mentor. The application is open for only a couple more days for this round:

    Youth Ministry Mentorship

  • Ebony

    Does hearing comments from teens make ideas come to you easier for your youth group. I think my youth group is good but i think we also need fresh ideas like more fundraising ideas and ways to help out the younger members of our church as well as the elderly. I would like more ideas to discuss with my youth group to get more creative ideas. Also in my youth group we established a system such as president, vice president,etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jerald.malamba Jerald Malamba

    Hey, your articles inspires me a lot! up! Am Jerald Malamba, the Engage Hope and E3 students Director in Tanzania. Praying for you.

  • Bryan Stites

    Thanks for the info and the refreshing reminder of the importance of prayer.

  • http://churchwebsitedesign.co/ Michael

    #1 (PRAY) is so often overlooked. I’m glad that is the first thing you listed. Sometimes God has different plans for us than what we THINK He is leading us to do. Great post Tim.

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