I Stopped Doing This In Ministry, And It Changed Everything

Nick Ballard
August 1st, 2019

It’s easy to get in ruts and routines in ministry.  We typically get in ruts or routines for one of two reasons:  1) We either find something that works, so we ride it until it dies, or 2) We’re stuck in tradition, and are too fearful to change something.  The truth of the matter is, things change, and we must sometimes instigate change in order to experience change.

I’ll be honest, I’m the type of guy that likes to ride something that works until it doesn’t work anymore.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  Often times, I’m too slow to change something that should be changed, or I simply wait too long.  But, 5 years ago, our student ministry team decided to embark on a major change that would change the entire outlook of our ministry, as well as our church.

It all started when we decided to address one of the largest elephants in the church world…where are the college students?  Our church, like many churches, saw students graduate from high school and disappear into the abyss.  Yes, some would go away to college, but those that didn’t weren’t seeming to stick either.  We knew something needed to change.  So, we began a nearly year-long campaign to figure out why students weren’t sticking.  We collected surveys from parents, students, staff, and volunteers.  We noticed areas where we were dropping the ball, as well as areas we were doing well.  We concluded that a large reason students were leaving our church after high school, was simply that they didn’t feel like it was their church.  They had no ownership.  And the reason they had no ownership was because they were neither worshiping nor serving on Sundays.  Instead, they were holed up in the Student Building.  Every Sunday morning, we would have our own student services, complete with areas to serve, communion and offering, worship, and teaching.  For 7 years, students would call this church, only to leave upon graduation and walk into a new church, one filled with their parents and older people.

We realized what need to be done.  We had to stop competing with our own church and start investing in it.  And likewise, the church needed to start investing in the teens.  So, we began having conversations.  We sat down with our leadership…our Lead Pastor, Worship Pastor, and Elders.  We presented the problem, and then we presented the solution.  We need our teens in the church on Sundays.  We needed them in worship, and we needed them serving.

The truth was, while our teens needed the church as a whole, our church needed teens to have ownership.  With leadership on board, we began to roll out our plan to cut all student ministry programming on Sunday mornings to integrate teens into the church body.  And almost a year into the process, we made the move.  No longer would middle school and high school students do their own thing while the rest of the church did theirs.  And now, 4 years in, we can clearly see the benefits of this decision:

  1. Teens have ownership in the church.  Every week, everywhere you walk in the building, you will see teens serving.  From the Café, to door greeters, to running cameras, to leading worship, to teaching the kids, they are in it big.
  2. Teens are present!  Before we integrated, our teens were in a completely separate building.  You could walk into church and not see a teen presence at all.  Now, teens are everywhere, and that speaks volumes.  We are a multi-generational church.  We even have student sections, so they can still have the community if they want, and also bring the energy.
  3. They’re sticking around after graduation.  Because of their ownership in middle school and high school, they are sticking in college.  They continue to serve where they’ve been serving, and worship where they’ve been worshiping.
  4. Our Student Ministry Staff is way more available now.  We are meeting parents, new families, and having more conversations than ever before.
  5. Our weekly student programming has increased in attendance.  Because, we have put all of our eggs in our weeknight programming, student attendance has increased.  We are able to focus in on making our weekly programming the best it can be.

I truly believe that in order for students to stick with the church after graduating, they have to be invested in the church before graduating, and the church must be invested in them.  We also have to let go of what we’re doing on Sunday mornings, regardless if it’s a sacred cow or an amazing program.  Either way, it’s competing with something it doesn’t need to be competing with.  Talk with your leadership, and figure out ways to make your worship service more engaging for teens.  And ask the question:  Are you more worried about what your student ministry looks like today, or what the church will look like tomorrow?

Nick Ballard

Nick is the Next Gen Pastor at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, MO, which is outside of St. Louis. Nick has been in full-time student ministry since 2005. He's been married since 2004, and been a father since 2011. Nick loves student ministry, the local church, and believe that God has big plans for this generation of teenagers. Follow Nick at Twitter @nicksville or check out www.studentministrylife.com

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.