Ministry That Launches

Youth Specialties
November 9th, 2014

We are fortunate to know so many incredible youth workers that are far wiser than we are and Stephen Ingram is one of them. We're excited to share this guest post from Stephen.

Original photo provided by NASA.

Starting Right

Wanting to equip the seniors in your ministry? Great!

Want to do so in a way that is going to help them have life long faith? Awesome!

Want to start this with your current seniors? Ummmm… Well, let’s talk about that.

I am convinced, after 16 years in youth ministry, that the best way to prepare your seniors is to prepare your sixth graders. Once students are in their junior or senior year, if you have not done the work, you will probably not see the results. 

One of the most important things that I see youth ministers forget is that the point of youth ministry is not youth ministry. The point of youth ministry is creating whole, healthy, committed, and vibrant Christian adults. Unfortunately the ghettoization of youth ministry created by the church and the consequent youth ministry sub culture have, for the past 40 years, created a bunch of youth group junkies.

Don’t hear me wrong here: I’m not blaming youth ministers. If anything, I’d blame the consumer nature of ministry in general. When we are in such a highly competitive market, which make no mistake that youth ministry is, we force youth ministers to be pushers.

For the past 30 years, most youth ministers who last for any significant amount of time at one place have learned how to get kids addicted to youth group. We know the techniques, when to do certain trips, how to manipulate emotions, and especially how to keep them coming back for more. We have to remember, and our congregations have to learn, that our calling is not to create a ghettoized junkie subculture that, as most studies have shown, has no clue how to function outside of the American youth ministry.  

Equipping Equals and Helping Them Launch Well

Our goal, much like what I believe to goal of parenting to be, is to, from the moment we get them into youth group, start the launching process. If we have the end goal of creating Christian adults and not youth group junkies then we can have no other end goal. That does not mean that we start pushing them out of the door as they are walking in, but it does mean that each of our programs, retreats, games, bible studies, and talks should have the stated or implied message that God is calling them to go. 

Go forth and make disciples.

Go forth and tell the good news to the poor, captives and blind.

Go forth and multiply.

Go forth and be not afraid.

Go forth and receive life and a life more abundant.


Our fellowship should be to teach them about community, not to ingrain them into the group.

Our retreats should teach them about the importance of Sabbath and building their own spirituality, not fabricating emotional mountaintops that they will feel guilty for not being able to achieve as adults.

Our Bible studies should challenge and equip them to think about and process their faith and the difficult questions that they cannot fathom now, not give them trite and cliché answers that will collapse when the first real adult crisis comes their way.

Our programs should stop being reactionary and start being preparatory.


I know you probably didn’t start reading this article because you wanted to think about how to launch sixth graders, so let’s get back to your 12th graders. There’s a way that we “capstone” our seniors in their last year that we have found to be really meaningful to our students, while it helps them launch successfully.

The first thing is what we expect from them. I’ve told many of my seniors over the years that I fully expect their attendance to begin to drop off, especially in their second semester of senior year. Sometimes they look at me a little shocked. Relieved, but shocked. I tell them and parents that it is really hard to try to live in two worlds.

In every other part of their lives they are grabbing ahold of what is next. They are visiting their colleges, buying sheets for their dorms, learning about their majors, meeting new roommates, and registering for classes. Sometimes we call it senioritis, but I just call it grabbing ahold of what is next, which is what they should be doing. 

The same goes for youth group. They have to start letting go, gradually. The worst thing I see youth ministers do in this scenario is to begin to guilt their seniors. We tell them that they should be leaders and step up. We, through these guilt-laden diatribes, tell them that they cannot launch, they cannot transition and therefore they cannot grab ahold of what is next. In essence, we tell them they cannot leave youth group, and they resent us for it.

Instead of doing this, give them permission to release at their own pace and let them know that you are still there and want to continue to be in relationship with them.  I have found that I see my seniors a lot more over a cup of coffee than I do at Sunday school and youth group.

The other way we help them launch is through a program we created called Exodus.  The idea of Exodus is simple: We created a monthly small group that treats them like adults and deals with and helps prepare them for what is next. We meet the first Tuesday of each month in the second semester of their senior year. We usually meet at different restaurants together and have a meal, and each month, we have a different speaker come in to have a discussion with our students.

The speakers are not usually associated with the youth ministry but are in the church.  We have a business professional come in and talk about time management; a counselor talk about making good transitions; a family psychologist talk about changing family dynamics and how to leave well; a college chaplain talk about spirituality in college. Every year, our students tell us how helpful and meaningful this is. It has become a great ministry that engages our seniors and helps empower them to make that next step into God’s future for them. 

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of “Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time.” organicstudentministry.com

Youth Specialties

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