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5 Youth Ministry Fixtures that Need to Die by 2025

Steve Cullum
December 31st, 2020

Youth ministry does not have a deep history. While some historians point to its mid-19th century roots, modern youth ministry really started in 1940s. Over the years, we have seen many trends come and go, but some fixtures have overstayed their welcome.

As we look to the future of youth ministry, we must evaluate how we do ministry. What are the best practices? What needs to change? What needs to go away? What are we holding onto that really is not working? What do we need to do more? And what do we need to let die? These are all great questions to ask on a regular basis.

Some changes cannot happen right away, though. Not all of us have the ability to instantly kill an aspect of our ministry. Some of us have boards, committees, and more that must approve ideas like these. So, let’s look further down the timeline.

Here are five youth ministry fixtures that need to die by 2025:

Going Solo

If you have been in youth ministry for a few weeks or several years, you have already realized at least one thing–it’s tiring. There is a lot of work to do. I mean, think about it. How many teenagers are in your community? And how many of those are in a committed relationship with Jesus? See what I mean? There is a lot of work to be done. We were not made to do this alone. For far too long, many of us have sat atop our pedestals and wondered why we weren’t making the impact we want.

Moving forward, we must think beyond ourselves.

First of all, rely even more on God. You are not the Savior.

Second, let’s begin to recruit and train more leaders within our churches. We need a team.

Third, we have to get outside of our ministry. Students have been siloed for way too long in their corner of the building.

Get them engaged in other ministries of the church, and help other ministries to connect with the students. Finally, we need to look beyond our church and partner with other churches and ministries in our community. We are in this together, and together, we can actually make a huge difference in a generation of teenagers.

Ignoring Parents

Like many of you, I began serving in youth ministry, because I loved working with teenagers. Beyond my desire to impact them for Christ’s Kingdom, I also joke about how it is a way for me to hold onto my childhood a bit longer. Seriously, I do not want to grow up! But something I learned early on in ministry from a great mentor is that I need to also be working with parents. In fact, I would argue that we should be working with adults more than teenagers.

Similar to my point above, we cannot do this alone. As Reggie Joiner says in Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, “No one has more potential to influence a child than you.” If parents truly are the primary spiritual leaders of their children, what are we doing to make sure they are prepared to do that? The couple hours that we have with teens is not enough to truly make an impact. The hours upon hours that parents have is another story, though. How are we partnering with them in discipleship?

Event-Focused

I love a good youth ministry event. As I said earlier, one of the selfish reasons I serve in youth ministry is because I’m really just a big kid myself. Pulling off a big event that leaves a bunch of teens saying, “That was awesome! When can we do that again!?” is a great feeling. But that’s just it. It’s a feeling.

What are we doing to help them grow as disciples and disciplers? Kyle Idleman, in Not a Fan, says, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” Events are not a bad thing, but if we are focused on that being our win, we might find ourselves feeling more like an event planner than a youth pastor.

Again, that does not mean you don’t do events. Teenagers want to have fun. Keep doing them, but make sure your focus is not solely on events, and make sure you have a strategy behind them.

  • Where do you want those students to go after they attend an event?
  • What’s their next step beyond just coming to the next event?

If we really want to make teenage disciples, we need to move our focus. Youth ministry should not be about simply drawing a big crowd. It should be about truly impacting teens and empowering them to change their world for Christ (more on this below). 

Overlooking Discrimination

Our eyes have been open to many things this year. One of those is racial discrimination, but it doesn’t stop there. Before we look at how to “fix” the world around us, it’s important to ask ourselves some internal questions.

  • What are the demographics of your youth group?
  • Do they all look similar?
  • Do they all speak the same way?
  • Do they all have comparable backgrounds?
  • Do the games we play, songs we sing, and illustrations we use focus on a certain demographic?

Most likely, we aren’t doing it on purpose, but we are probably leaving out some people, maybe even accidentally discriminating against some.

Lataha Morrison said, “Bridge building is about being awkward, not comfortable.” So if we want our students to see everyone they meet as a child of God, we need to make sure we’re doing that in our ministries. One quick way to fix this is to broaden your leadership team. Get people who look different than you, speak differently, and have different backgrounds to help you evaluate your ministry.

Ask the hard questions and gain perspective. Then try to implement new methods and strategies to move in the right direction. When students see different types of people on stage, hear different types of stories, sing a song in a different language, or even play a game from a different culture, we are showing them that the Kingdom of God is much bigger and diverse than we have previously led them to believe.

Not Empowering Students

If we are going to truly make a difference in this next generation, we need to begin thinking about teenagers differently. It’s been said many times before, but our students aren’t the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.

They are not potential leaders. They are leaders. So how are we helping them see themselves like that? How are we handing them the “keys of leadership” that Kara Powell speaks about in Growing Young? How are we preparing them to lead both inside and outside the church? 

Mike Haynes, on episode 55 of The Student Ministry Podcast, said, “Seeing things through the lens of the gospel informs our response on any given issue.” So how are we helping our students see their world through the gospel? How are we helping them see the world the way Jesus sees the world? And how are we helping them make a difference? Many teens are already seeing the issues, but how are we helping them engage in possible solutions? Rather than just sitting in a room and talking about Jesus, how are we empowering them to ultimately bring Jesus to our broken world?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it has taught us that things can change in a minute. Our foundations, however, are incredibly important.

So what is your youth ministry’s foundation?

What will keep standing even if we go through a pandemic, incredible racial tension, political upheaval, and more?

It’s time to evaluate, reprioritize, and let some fixtures die (or even be willing to kill them) in order to build a better foundation for our students, their families, and the communities around us. As youth leaders, we are called to lead. Part of leading is making tough but important decisions. So ask God for the courage to step up and make the changes that need to be made.

Onto to 2021. The future of youth ministry is exciting! LET’S GO!

Steve Cullum

Steve Cullum is the student pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO, where he oversees their ministry to sixth through twelfth grade students and their families. He also hosts The Student Ministry Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @stevecullum.

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.

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