Refocusing youth ministry

Refocusing on the Goal

Excerpt from an Interview with Veteran Youth Pastor, Bruce Collier.

How long have you been in youth ministry?
I became a full-time youth pastor at a church in 1999. I’m starting my 22nd year in full time youth ministry. Wow!

What changes did you make in 2019-2020?
In 2019, I was chatting with Steve Oswald (WOL Missionary) and in our discussion I was struck by the question; “Where are they now?”

  • Are the former students from our youth ministry still plugged into Christ?
  • Into the local church?
  • On mission with Jesus?

As I began to reflect on a couple of decades in ministry, I realized that throughout the years, so many of our students and leaders were “good” students but not necessarily “godly” students. I have ministered to thousands of students throughout the years and thank God for every one of them and their families. However,

  • I’ve wondered if we set the bar high enough…
  • Did I expect much out of them?
  • Did I model well what following Jesus looks like?
  • Did I challenge them at least as much as their volleyball coach or their science teacher?

I began to process how many large pizzas I had ordered throughout the years and was really motivated to make sure ministry was reflecting what the Bible reflects – lives changed by Jesus.

Refocusing the Goal

I met with my leaders and refocused on the goal. We changed our weekly programming to reflect our new values and goals. This wasn’t easy as I had to explain why I was going to stop doing the “usual” on Wednesday nights for students in hopes that our change would lead to more significant outcomes. One change we made was to our Wednesday night service for students. We used to have “everyone come and bring all your friends” and we would see a few lives changed here and there but to be honest, it was mostly a big hype night where we had to patrol the parking lot looking for students who were out wandering the property. I made the decision to cancel that entirely, and here’s what we replaced it with:

5:45 – 6:20: Students show up to work on scripture memory.
6:20 – 8:00: Students help serve in children’s ministry – they lead the games, teach lessons, set up, tear down, etc.

Seeing Results

Our students Rose to the challenge!

They worked hard and enjoyed working together. Sure, there were less of them, because the call to discipleship and service doesn’t seem to be fun enough for the masses, but the students who did show up have become the core. The parents of those students have thanked me and our pastoral team for making the change. Other people in the church have commented on how nice it is to see students serving in ministry.

To be clear, at first, I was met with some strange looks by parents and a few of them were a little disappointed that I was changing the programming around, but thankfully I had enough relational credit to allow us to try it and see how it would play out. I can tell you that this past year, as a result of changing things up, was the best year for us yet! So many leaders accepted the challenge to grow in their faith. Many students set goals, and 13 hit at least 500 Creative Discipleship points (earned for daily devotions, scripture memory, serving and more). Glory to God!

I’m so thankful that our pastor was willing to give up something good, for what’s great. Best of all, I feel like our current refocused model of ministry is more Christ-honoring. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Do we have more lost students to reach? Absolutely. We’ll continue praying for God to do mighty things and we’ll expect students to chase Jesus!

For more info on Creative Discipleship https://youthministry.wol.org/scholarships/#creative-discipleship

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