I believe that every youth leader worth his or her salt wants to make the biggest impact possible in the lives of their teenagers and in the communities where those teenagers live. But how can that be done effectively?
The seven keys I’m about to share with you were the result of a research project, first among hundreds of youth leaders across the nation, and then throughout the book of Acts. These specific values popped to the top of every high performing youth ministry as well as on every page of the book of Acts. There’s really no magic formula or shocking surprise here. What’s shocking is that somehow most of us have missed so many of them in how we view and do youth ministry.
Here are the seven keys:
1. Make intercessory prayer your numero uno priority.
It should be no surprise that the most effective youth leaders are the ones who prioritize prayer in their personal lives, in their leadership meetings and with their teenagers. They pray for their Christian teenagers and get them to pray for their lost friends. This is exactly what Paul told Timothy to prioritize in his church planting/strengthening efforts in 1 Timothy 2:1-8. If we can make intercessory prayer a true priority, our youth ministry efforts will add divine traction to our human actions. And it’s only then that we will begin to see true and lasting results.
2. Train your teenagers to engage in relational evangelism.
In Matthew 11:19, Jesus is labeled “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (NIV). He purposely hung out with the lost so that he could reach them. And he set a pattern for his disciples to do the same. Jesus built relational bridges and then crossed them with the cargo of the Gospel. We must exemplify this to our teenagers and equip our teenagers to follow suit. As my friend (and Dare 2 Share Certified Trainer) Chris Selby often says, “We must look at our teenagers who go to public school as federally funded missionaries.” As we train them to make friends with “sinners” and introduce them to Jesus, we will gain surprising momentum. We will also witness our teenagers mature spiritually like never before.
3. Make sure your leaders are modeling these values.
As Jesus said, “A student is not better than the teacher, but the student who has been fully trained will be like the teacher” (Luke 6:40 NCV). Look at your adult leaders and your student leaders and ask yourself, “Is this what I want the rest of my teenagers to look like spiritually?”
If your leaders are not reflecting a heart for God, a lifestyle of prayer, a passion for evangelism, and a drive for discipleship, then how can we expect the teenagers they are leading to exemplify these traits? This doesn’t mean they have to be perfectly doing all these things (who is?), but they need to be, at the minimum, willing to go for it. If they are willing to become the leader that Jesus calls them to be, then by his power we can make them ready and able!
4. Develop a disciple-multiplication pathway for your teenagers.
Don’t just be about making converts, teaching lessons, or doing programs. Be about making and multiplying disciples. This means creating a growth pathway that you are nudging teenagers down.
For help on doing this effectively, I strongly recommend 4 Chair Discipling by Dr. Dann Spader. It gives you a simple and very biblical way (following the example of Jesus’ discipleship “methodology”) to move your teenagers from unbeliever to believer to worker to disciple multiplier.
5. Identify your bold vision and keep it in front of your youth group.
Jesus gave his disciples a bold vision in Acts 1:8 when he told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). Here he gives them a vision to reach out across the street (Jerusalem), across the tracks (Samaria), and across the world (ends of the earth). We must do the same with our teenagers. A bigger, bolder vision drives bigger, bolder results and increases our dependency on God in prayer!
6. Start measuring the right things.
As someone once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” This is especially true in youth ministry. Instead of mere attendance, how about measuring things like…
…the percentage of new believers attending your youth group year over year?
…how many teenagers in your youth ministry are actively sharing their faith?
…the number of teenagers spiritually qualified to disciple other teenagers or be on your leadership team?
In John 15:16, Jesus calls us to not only bear much fruit, but to bear fruit that will last. These kinds of outcomes matter to God. To do this effectively we must start measuring the right outcomes, not just how many showed up to our events.
7. Program your true priorities.
The proof of the pudding is in the programs. In Acts 6:4, the early disciples made a bold determination not to get distracted by other ministry duties so they could focus on “prayer and the ministry of the word” (NIV). The ministry of the Word was both external (evangelizing the lost) and internal (teaching and equipping the believers). In one verse, we see the apostles programming three major priorities: intercessory prayer, relational evangelism, and disciple multiplication.
The disciples programmed their priorities. Are you?
Your youth ministry priorities are either empty platitudes or true priorities, depending on whether or not they get programmed. If you spend more time in announcements than actual prayer during youth group, is prayer a true priority? If you push all of your outreach efforts into a monthly or quarterly outreach meeting, is it a real priority? If I told my wife that she was a priority but only talked to her once a month, would she be a real priority?
We must relentlessly program our priorities. We must put intercessory prayer, leadership development, evangelism training, and disciple multiplication strategies into our programs and onto our calendars. If we don’t, we are only fooling ourselves.
These seven keys are easy to understand, but aren’t necessarily simple to apply. Sadly, youth ministry today is not built for a movement, but built for a meeting. But if you take these seven keys and begin to implement them (starting with prayer), you will begin to experience diving momentum and deeper impact. It will take time and effort, but it will be more than worth it.
It’s time to transform the way we do and view youth ministry! These seven keys will help you do just that in the power of Christ!