Youth Ministry Restart: How I Knew And How It Happened

Tom Pounder
March 13th, 2020

Youth Group every Sunday night is what we did. That was our primary group gathering. Not only for the Church I was currently working at, but for a lot of ministries I have worked in over the years. I would have one primary night for middle school and high school students in which, in their separate groups, they would meet together, worship together, eat snacks together, play fun games and then learn about God together. And for a good amount of years, that seemed to work out really well. The middle school group and high school group was thriving.

But then a funny thing happened.

Students stopped showing up. It was gradual, but over time what was once a solid, growing youth program turned into a handful of students coming for Sunday night programming. The excuses were all different, yet similar. I have always said there is no magic formula for student ministry, yet no matter what we tried at the Church, students just wouldn’t show up on a consistent basis.

That is when I knew what we were doing was not working and we needed to make a change.

We really needed to refocus and restart.

We decided to do two different things for our middle school and high school students.

For middle schoolers, we prioritized Sunday morning as the main experience and then filtered in strategic events and small group times. We made Sunday morning the priority because that is when most of our students had the opportunity to come. After all, parents would come to Church, they could just drop their middle schooler off at group. Parents don’t have to go to Church in the morning, go home and then come back a few hours later for group.

In addition to making Sunday morning connections a priority…

  • We focused on strategic events to drive interest and help connect students into potential small groups.  These strategic events were every 4-6 weeks and were designed to build community.
  • Finally, we began to add more discipleship focused times where leaders could spend time in small groups with students who desired to go deeper in their faith.

For our high schoolers, we took a different approach. Instead of having students come back to Church, we decided to go into the homes of high schoolers and start Home Groups.

In the past, we had a few groups like this develop and had a good amount of success. So, we decided to put all our effort into this new kind of format. Instead of having one core, central “youth group,” we developed more regional groups centered around specific high schools, meeting in people’s homes.

Our goal was to create smaller communities of students where they could actually get to know others in their schools and help encourage them to spur each other on in Christ.

The format was simple.

  • Home cooked food
  • a game or two together
  • active engagement and participation Bible study.

It worked out amazingly! Students started showing up. And, they started inviting their friends to come out. In addition, we are able to better follow up with students and start more meaningful discipleship relationships because of the conversations that are happening in the homes.

So what happened to Big Group Youth Group?

We still do it from time to time as we want students from different home groups to connect together. We also do trips together. But, the energy and discussions that happen in the homes have been really impactful. This has allowed us to realize that the decision to restart the high school ministry in this way was the right decision.

What we saw when we restarted our middle and high school programs was transformational. It kicked our program to a whole new level. Restarts are not ideal. They are hard and it takes time (ours was a 2 year period). Hopefully, you will never have to do one. But if you come to the time where you feel you a restart is needed, trust your gut and seek God’s wisdom on next steps.

While not ideal, restarting your ministry can lead to a new, exciting and fruitful season that revitalizes your ministry and helps even more people come to know Christ.

It did for ours and it can do it for yours.

Tom Pounder

A father of 4, Tom is the Student Minister and Online Campus Pastor at New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, VA. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts regularly about student and online ministry stuff. Check out his work at YMSidekick.com

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