Giving youth pastors the tools they need to make and shape disciples.

Beyond Leadership: How Volunteers and Students Forge a Winning Youth Ministry Culture

In the heart of every successful team, beyond carefully crafted plays and honed skills, lies a beating pulse – the team culture. While coaches set the stage with structure and game plans, it’s the players who breathe life into the locker room, shaping the atmosphere that can elevate or undermine performance. As former NFL center Jeff Saturday eloquently said, “Coaches build structure, players build culture.”

Youth Pastors, and Pastors in general, like most sport coaches, are believed to be the culture setters because of how they speak or program, but think about all the time you are not with students. You and I know we have limited time with students, 2hrs a week at most.

The students we lead, on the other hand are in each other’s texts, snaps and DM’s all week and which we have no control over. The culture is being being built beyond us, like it or not, which means we can influence it but not set it or control it.

How do we build a positive, supportive and contagious culture of faith? Let’s start with

The Cornerstones of a Winning Culture:

Respect and Trust: The foundation of any strong culture is mutual respect. You may expect or demand respect from your students, but how much do they trust and respect each other? This is why you hear coaches say, “Play for the man next to you!” That coach knows he is not taking the field and must give those players a reason to play beyond a paycheck, records or status.

Students, and volunteers, must value each other’s strengths and weaknesses, fostering an environment where open communication and constructive criticism are embraced. How good are you at building a “we’re all in this together” environment? How much do you foster a “have each other’s back” type of mentality?

Accountability and Ownership: Great youth ministries hold both individual and collective accountability. I have been banging the drum for 30 years about students owning the youth ministry because if they own it they’ll fight for it. If we own it, it’s just another commodity and we are just a salesmen for that commodity. Scripture commends all believers, not just from Pastor to congregations,

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” Hebrews 10:24

Students, and volunteers, must be allowed to lead, make mistakes, learn from them, and strive for constant improvement. This benefits the whole youth ministry. It’s our role to initiative to motivate the leaders in both our students and volunteers to push each other towards living, loving and serving for Christ’s sake.

Positivity and Resilience: Your youth ministry will experience trouble, hardship, even tragedy. What will keep your youth ministry from collapsing? It will not be the curriculum you are teaching, the games you are playing but it will be your relationship with those who are leaders within your youth ministry.

Students, and volunteers, must celebrate each other’s victories, big and small, and maintain a sense of optimism through adversity. 

I can remember times when I’ve gone through a numbers slump or a volunteer was not living right. It was the team of students or volunteers who took up the slack and kept their head up during these tough times. Student would give more, serve more, encourage more because we were all in this together.

This unwavering positivity starts with us and fuels resilience, allowing the ministry to bounce back from challenges and remain focused on their ultimate goal of loving God and each other, serving the Lord.

How do you build, and continue to build, a culture committed to God and each other?

The Bricks

Leadership Emerges, Not Assigned: Effective leadership doesn’t reside solely in captains’ armbands, so to speak. Your best influencers may not have the title of leader.  Every student and volunteer has the potential to inspire. Encourage leaders to lead by example, holding others accountable, and offer words of encouragement.

Take those aside who love your youth ministry, lead in your youth ministry and coach them up and tell them, “What you say and how you live carries weight. Use it for good.” I have an ideas this is what Jeuss did with Peter, James and John. Keep an eye on incoming students and volunteers as well as those who may emerge from the the crowd.

Embrace Individuality, Celebrate Unity: I know diversity is a buzzword and even a cussword to some, but consider the diversity of disciples and their varied backgrounds, the 120 in the upper room and the 3,000 that were added to the church on Pentecost. All diverse but one Spirit.

A winning culture thrives on diversity. Your body depends on diversity, you can’t be all hands, feet and eyes.

 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

I Corinthians 12:12-14

Students come from different backgrounds, with unique personalities and serving styles. Celebrate these differences while finding common ground. Foster a sense of unity, and consistently paint a picture of “we” not “me”. Remind your group, often, individual strengths combined, create an unstoppable force.

Shared Rituals and Traditions: Camp, retreats, revivals, mission trips forge lasting memories and build a sense of belonging. These a monument moments but whether it’s pre-service prayer, sharing a meal, or a shared community service project, rituals weave the threads of fellowship into the fabric of your youth ministry. If you don’t have any rituals, create some.

The Impact of Culture:

A positive youth group or locker room culture is not a mere perk; it’s a game-changer. It fosters communication, reduces friction, and ignites a passion. This passion translates to the youth service, evident in worship, praying and supporting one another, and loving each other with judgement that distinguishes truly great youth ministries.

Remember, Youth Pastors, you may provide the blueprint, but it’s the students and voluteers who lay the bricks and mortar of a winning culture. By embracing the principles of respect, accountability, and positivity, and through shared experiences and leadership, students and volunteers can transform your locker room, your youth ministry into a crucible where individual talents melt together to forge a team forged in unity and destined for greatness.

So, youth pastors, go ahead and strategize, but let the students lead the way – for it is they who hold the true power to build a culture that transcends victories and defeats, leaving an indelible mark on the youth youth ministry and each other.

If you are looking to build a championship youth ministry, check out My Youth Ministry Playbook.

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