I started my role as Youth Pastor in a church plant. We had twenty people in the church when we began eleven years ago. The youth group equated to one teenager who came because his parents made him come. I saw my role in his life as one of an encourager. I made attempts to connect with him after school and on weekends. He played baseball so I made it a point to show up a game or two to cheer him on. Over time we developed a mutual trust and he began to call me for advice with different things that he was dealing with. In the course of a year and a half the youth group grew from one student to five. This young man began to tell his friends about his church and his youth group (can you call it a group if there is only one youth?).
Over time there were more teens that began to show up, some who were being added to the church because their families attended the church and others who were coming because their friends were inviting them. Fast forward eleven years and we now average one hundred and fifty students in our youth ministry. I have spoken with many new youth leaders/pastors who desire to grow their youth ministry large and quick. A verse that was shared with me many years ago and one that I cling to even now is found in Zechariah 4:10,
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”
Whether you have one youth or hundreds, what are the basic things that are foundational to your ministry? Do youth feel welcomed, accepted, cared for when they meet you? Do they attend because they like the way that they feel when they are at your youth group?
Put people first. I love the song by Billy Joel, “It’s all about soul.” We change the words and sing, “It’s all about souls!” Yes, I am interested in growing in numbers, but not at the expense of losing who we are as a ministry. I don’t want a crowd for bragging rights. I understand that each teenager that walks through our doors is a soul and they matter to God. Because of that they matter to me. We make it a point to get to know the kids that come to our ministry. We are purposeful in our small groups because we know that even with a large group of teens we have the ability to make our ministry small and personal to each student.
Don’t desire growth in numbers so that you can play the comparison game with other youth leaders. Desire personal growth in your own life and in each of the lives of the youth that God has entrusted to you. Make the most of every opportunity with them. If you have one teen who comes faithfully celebrate that! Pour all that you have into that one teenager and trust that God will use them to reach a whole generation of youth during their lifetime.
Far too many youth leaders play the comparison game with larger youth ministries and that is unhealthy. Don’t do it. Appreciate the youth that are coming. Make the most of those relationships. When growth in numbers becomes less of a focus and you create a healthy ministry where every person matters you will most likely experience new growth in attendance as well. C.S. Lewis said this, “Put first things first and you get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose them both.” May you focus on the “first things” that matter.
Kevin Twombly has been the Generations Pastor at Grace Capital Church in Pembroke, NH for the last 10 years. During this time the youth group has grown from 1 student (church plant) to a thriving group of over 150 students that meet weekly for a large group and small group setting. Kevin is a very relational leader who desires to equip others in Youth Ministry in order to continue to expand the Kingdom of God.
Posted on October 22, 2008