This article was originally published in the CBOQ Sunday 2022 magazine.
What does it take to run a youth ministry? The simple answer is whatever is available at your church. Perhaps you might feel that your church doesn’t have the resources or personnel to run an effective youth ministry.
Let’s define an effective youth ministry first.
At its very core, the purpose of youth ministry is to pass the truths of God to the next generation, the “praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” (Psalm 78:4) We tend to assume youth ministry must have mid-week programs, small groups, compassion experiences (aka short-term mission opportunities), events and food (well, as Baptists, food has always been part of the equation). Because of these expectations, some churches think they’re not able to run an effective youth ministry.
Matt Wilkinson, CBOQ Director of Next Generation Ministries, points out in his book “Youth Ministry: Now and Not Yet” (p.112) that the beginning step of any youth ministry is 1-1 mentoring. It begins with a group of adults willing to take time to invest in an individual child/youth’s life. From there, as those relationships evolve, other elements can be added in depending on the gifts/skills/passions of the people.
In many of our CBOQ churches, there is a small number of adults with a handful of children and youth (i.e. under the age of 18). In August 2004, Dr. Chap Clark (our Assembly 2018 speaker) encouraged churches to adopt a
5:1 ratio of adults to youth (you can read his editorial in Decision Magazine). In most churches, if one adult is willing to invest into 1-2 children/youth, that church could fulfill the 5:1 ratio.
What does that investment look like? “I can’t run an overnight retreat.” “I don’t know what to say.” “I’m too busy.” With the few exceptions, these are excuses when we as adults in the church are not willing to fulfill our God-directed mandate. Your level of investment can take on different forms, intensity and involvement. In our blog post
“Sharing Life”, there are different degrees of investing into another person. Sharing life extends a sense of belonging
to the child/youth into the overall church body (even if they’ve grown up their entire lives there) and brings examples of how faith works. The key is providing a space for them to grow and unpack their faith, not for us to shape them into another “me”.
From there, as shown in Matt’s book, a ministry can grow depending on the availability and gifts of the various adults. There may be seasons when there can be expansion into other opportunities e.g. serving at a local agency together. If needed, there are seasons when the program of the youth ministry readapts to the gifts and availability of
those who serve. The core remains that a network of 5 adults investing into 1 child/youth be maintained.
In its essence, every church has the resources to effectively minister to and with the children and youth in their church. For adults, it may take you out of your comfort zone (growth doesn’t happen without some discomfort). It may look radically different than how you developed in your own faith at that age.
If we are serious about wanting the next generation to know the “praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done”, then let’s use what we already have available to us well.
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