What do you think is the number one factor in effective ministry to youth in the church? A great youth pastor? Strong Sunday School programs? Mission trips? A youth-friendly senior pastor? A large youth group? While all of these can be contributing factors, none are the most important.
The most important factor in effective ministry to youth in the local church is commitment to youth ministry by the entire congregation. In 2003, the Exemplary Youth Ministry Project released the first report from an academic study that surveyed effective protestant youth ministries all over the United States. The study looked at excellent youth ministries in all kinds of congregations – large membership and small membership; urban, rural and suburban; a single pastor to multiple staff members. All of these churches with great youth ministry had something in common – a total congregational commitment to youth ministry.
So many churches are looking for the key to strong youth ministry, so here it is: the key is relationships. Ultimately we know this, but somehow we’ve formed an idea that youth ministry is best done by someone who relates better to youth than us, or who is assigned to minister to the youth, or if we’re lucky enough, is paid to work with our youth. Yet even the most extroverted of those assigned to youth ministry can’t do youth ministry alone. They need you, meaning everyone from the pastor to the parent, from those who saw their children through to adulthood years ago to those who don’t have children of their own, from those already involved in other church leadership to those not yet involved.
So here is the challenge to you. Find a young person in your midst and mentor them in the faith. Perhaps you have a grandchild or a niece or a nephew, but you’ve never really talked about faith. Perhaps you can mentor in a school or after-school program nearby. Perhaps you are a parent and could encourage faith conversations with your youth’s best friend. Or, if your circles don’t have contact with young people, talk to whoever is working with youth at your church and see how you can get involved.
As United Methodists, we believe that all are called by God to be in ministry, and some are called to order and serve the church. Perhaps that can help us understand effective youth ministry. All are called by God to be in ministry with young people, and some, our youth workers and youth pastors, are called to order and serve those congregation-wide ministries to youth. Contact the youth leader in your church and find out how you can be part of the life-changing, Christ-centered and transformative relationships that are vital to our youth and young people today.
For more thoughts and resources on youth ministry, visit www.youthministryconnection.org.
For information on youth ministry events in Indiana, visit www.inumcyouth.org.
The Rev. Brian Durand serves as Associate Director of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries for the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church.