Is Your Youth Program Flashy? Here's Why Ours Isn't?
As of May 1, I will have been at my current church in my current role as director of youth ministries (7th-12th grade) for four years. These types of milestones in one's ministry always seem to call for examination of a number of things-what have I accomplished? what have I not accomplished? how far have we come from when I started? how much have we grown since I started?
And lately, I've really been struggling with beating myself up over the numbers game. Because frankly, we don't have a lot of kids. I've blogged about some of the reasons we don't have many students. And today, I read a great blog post that really confirmed a lot of the feelings I have about doing ministry. I shared some of my frustrations a few weeks ago when I realized that many of us in youth ministry (at times myself included) feel like it is our calling to create this alternate reality for our kids with the best camps, the most famous speakers, deepest worship leaders, tallest zip lines, and most exotic mission trip destinations; all so we can send a student out into the "real world" who has no clue how to function without this Christian eutopia he called a youth group.
Call me old-fashioned. Call me lazy. Maybe our church budget doesn't offer some of the frills of a larger church ministry. But Jesus never marketed to the disciples. He didn't spend time convincing them why they should follow him. The crowds just followed his message. He didn't do "outreach events." I realize we live in a consumer culture and marketing is a very important part of the way anyone with a message has been forced to think. "How do I get my message out there." But the most effective marketing tool in the world has been the same for thousands of years. Word of mouth. Movies come and go. Sometimes I go see a movie because of the trailer. But the times I am most likely to go see/rent a movie is if someone I know and respect tells me "Hey, this is a great movie. You really should see it."
That is the way I hope our youth program is. And it seems to be that way. Our students have been bringing their friends and saying "This youth group is really great. You should come check it out." There's no crazy, high-energy youtube video, no neon logo outside the youth building, no Six Flags trip for the kids who come at least 3 Sundays in a month. Just Bible study, and worship, and some events that allow us to grow closer together and make a difference in the world around us. One thing that hasn't happened, though is the "bait 'n switch"-to have a kid come for free pizza and a concert, then to come to our regular youth group meeting and think "This is really lame." (See Tim Schmoyer's post about outreach events) While I firmly believe all this, I still found myself struggling with the numbers game and getting down about having a small group.
But the other day, something neat happened to me. I ran into one of my former Sunday School teachers. She asked me two questions: 1) How is your youth group? (Fine.) and 2) How many kids do you have? To which I replied, "We don't have many, but the ones we have are going to change the world!" I don't know where it came from, but it really affirmed some of my doubts I'd been having up until that point. When I look at our students and I envision where they will be in 4-6 years, I can say I'm pretty sure they will be world changers. They are developing skills and learning things about the Bible that will empower them for years of ministry. Some of them are doing things with computers. Some are doing things with musical instruments. And they're not just doing it in the youth group, but in the larger church services as well.
Maybe your church is small. Maybe your group is small. Maybe you don't have the time, budget, or resources to make clever videos on your Mac (PC if you're like me) for every Bible study or to have a student-made youtube video blog go out every week. But remember, that Jesus didn't have those things either. And youth ministry is about giving kids something they can take with them for the rest of their lives, not making the coolest videos.