5 Years From Now, This Ministry Will Look…

Carl Dodd
June 4th, 2019

It was the second day at my new job, and I was sitting around a collection of tables with all of our church Elders. Introductions were made, and stories were shared. Then came the question I knew someone was going to ask: “What is your vision for the youth ministry?”

Years ago this question would have had me grasping for answers that would impress people. If I’m honest, it would have been fuel for the engine that fires up my ego. I would have spoken with confidence about things that I may have not been fully confident in, but I was determined I was going to make them happen. I would have painted mental pictures of all that I could do to roll out this vision and make all of these events happen.

Here’s the thing: As youth leaders, our personal vision is never the final word on the matter. The body of Christ is a living, breathing, changing organism. One person alone can’t hold the vision for a ministry, because the church, the body, is a network of interconnected parts. (Wait… didn’t Paul have something to say about that?)

More and more, I see comments on social media from our youth ministry tribe discussing a common theme. The things that they’ve always done just aren’t working anymore. At some point, every youth ministry leader experiences that jarring moment when they realize their reliable, go-to program activities are losing effectiveness. That’s when we need to look beyond the limitations of our own vision and think bigger. 

For me, it is time to create a 5-year vision differently. It starts with ditching the idea of “my vision for the youth ministry”. For several years, I worked as part of a team rolling out a national Youth Participation Strategy for the Methodist Church of Great Britain. At the heart was the idea that our students could, and should be invited to be co-creators of their ministry. As I helped churches develop vision with students, I saw that this approach cut out a lot and, because a common vision means both young people and church leaders are already on board, made implementation a whole lot easier. Now I am living and serving in Seattle, and I am hearing the same concerns around church decline that I was hearing in the UK 15 years ago. 

Know what’s funny? When you invite students to be co-creators of their own ministry, it boosts their ownership of and commitment to what you are doing. It causes ministries to grow in healthy directions. And it can counteract the decline that we are seeing in our churches.

So now, rather than responding to my church Elder with a series of activities and programming strategies, we instead talk about inviting young people in on the conversation and allowing them to shape our next steps. 

If you find yourself in the same process, I want to offer three key steps to a co-created ministry:

Listen to student’s stories and the experiences of families. Listen to your students. In my new ministry, I am introducing a variety of facilitated listening sessions to understand the stories of the students. I want to hear their past stories and their stories of hope for the future. I am not just listening to the voices of students currently in the groups, but those beyond (For some ideas of how I do that, visit my Adventure Together Facebook page). I also want to make sure I’m spending time talking with families to hear their experiences and hopes for the future too.

Develop student leaders. If you are not doing it already, give your students opportunities to step into their potential and explore the calling God has placed on their lives. We can so often get in their way! Create a practical student leadership plan, which goes deeper than just giving students “something to do.” Invest in them, and place adults around them that can equip and mentor them.

Retooling the church to the new mission. This model of ministry can be a foreign concept to many. Take the time to get people on board with your reasoning for doing things differently. I encourage you to draw from some of the youth ministry experts out there, with voices like Fuller Youth Institute (Growing Young) and Timothy Eldred (YouEquip) to help you take your church leadership on the journey with you.

So what will my ministry look like in five years? Honestly, if you want to know about programs and activities, then I don’t know. But if we’re talking about what will be at the heart of it, then let me paint this picture:

“I imagine a ministry that is fully-owned by our students. This ministry will have a passion for deep discipleship as students encourage each other to grow their relationship with God. These same students are going to be creating their ministry so that is has integrity with their peers. These students are going to be trained and equipped as leaders amongst their peers, the wider church, and the communities beyond the church.

The church is going to understand why we do things differently. I envisage adults that serve by walking alongside students. They offer up their knowledge, their skills, and their wisdom.

 I long for a church that hears the voices of students both within their walls and beyond. I pray for a church that allows a student to move from outside the church door, to the core of a deep relationship with God, and within a worshipping community of faith.”

What would your young people like to see THEIR ministry look like in the next five years?

Carl Dodd

Carl Dodd has been ministering to children, youth and their families for 20 years. He has served in local, regional and national projects. He is currently Head of School at Eastside Academy in Seattle, a Christian High School working with at-risk students through counseling and recovery support. Carl also leads Youth Crisis First Responders (www.youthcrisis.org), equipping churches and ministries to respond to students experiencing times of crisis. Carl is married to Rachel and enjoys the outdoor life with their two girls in the lakes and forests of Washington.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.