“Where is everyone tonight?”

“I think a lot of them went over at First Church to their outreach.”

“Man, what is going on?”

Ever have this conversation before or after a youth meeting? I know we like to say we are not in competition with our brothers in Christ, and we are not. We, youth workers and programs, whether we realize it or not, ARE trying to stay competitive in 3 areas: programming, the A.D.D. nature of our students, and ourselves.

Let me tackle the first competitor: Another Youth Program

This is where my over analysis of life in general kicks in. In my town, like yours probably, there are churches that have similar programs to yours. They all have bands, great facilities, etc. When kids don’t show up to our programs, I usually go through a check list in my brain of what could draw a student somewhere else:

  • Charisma of the leader (How well they speak or interact with students)
  • Budget of the church (How much can they spend)
  • Number of students (everyone goes there)
  • Organization (how well do they plan, execute, and market their program)

Evaluating these key areas of our program can help us see where the program might be falling flat.

  • If you are concerned about your message delivery, take a speech class at your local community college, read a book on it, practice in the mirror more, or take some online training.
  • Look at the budget and see exactly where that money is going and whether you are spending it on maintenance or on outreach.
  • You may not be able to change the number of students you have right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change the momentum. Try focusing on leadership development with your students and adult leaders. Light a fire under them to lead and take ownership of the program. Let them plan it, execute it, and reap the rewards of it.
  • Make a list of some recent event that did not go so well and then tear them apart with students and other adults. Was it poorly planned or not well announced. Start tweaking how you execute. We many not have the gifts of another youth worker in our community, but we do have a vision and a mandate. Work the game plan God has give you and don’t spend a lot of time trying to mimic someone else.

Scripture tells us we are not to judge ourselves by others (2 Corinthians 10:12.) I am certainly not asking you to do that, but we can’t be naive to think that every youth worker in out community has the mentality of “we’re all in this together”, because we are not. As long as money, job security, numbers, and certain expectations are attached to our job performance, we are in a competitive race for the time and attention of students in our community. But, as I learned playing tennis, when you are playing someone better than you, you tend to try harder and seek improvement. Being competitive isn’t bad, being in competition is.

Do you feel like you are in a competition? Do you feel the pressure to compete with other churches? Is it o.k. to be competitive? Let me know, I want to hear from you. Be encouraged, God has your back no matter where you are in the pack. Part 2 coming soon.

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  1. I’ve got some issues with this. Let me be the first to admit that I have thought about the size of other churches and youth programs and that I have secretly wondering if their churches (or they themselves) are better than my church (or me). But that’s just the problem, it becomes us/them language.
    I work under this policy (even when it is hard to witness): If a student is not finding a genuine connection with Jesus at my churches group then I tell them a list of other churches for them to check out.
    It’s hard and it hurts sometimes but shouldn’t our focus be on the spiritual edification and discipleship of the teens in our area, not how large our programs look?
    Sure, it’s a job for most of us and a way we earn our wage. But does that mean we should sacrifice the spiritual development of even one teenager so we can have a paycheck? Should we hold off a students encounter with Christ “until our program grows/gets it together/develops/etc” so that we can report to our pastors that we had this many students there while secretly trying to say “Look how successful I am, please keep me”?
    I don’t think so.
    And that’s only one half of my problem. Aren’t we all one church? Didn’t Paul teach against us saying “I follow Apollo.” and “I follow Peter.”? How is that any different than saying “I go to Calvary.” or “I go to First.”? If we begin dividing the church into competitive teams and divisions we are contributing to a divisive and guarded ecclesiology. That’s not one church/body/family of Christ. It’s different teams trying to outdo and overpower other teams for the prize, which seems to be the attention of teens. As a youth pastor, I am uncomfortable looking at teens as prizes to be won.

  2. Matt I totally agree with you on many of your observations. If a kid is not connecting with us, I recommend churches as well but what about your regulars who simply bolt off because they saw something shiny? Do you throw up your hands and say, “Well, God bless’em at least their getting fed.”? No, you look inside and around and ask why. That is what this blog is really about: Asking why and what can or should I do. This is normal.

    Being your best for the sake of the kingdom is what it’s about within your context. As I said in my blog, we are not competing against other your ministers and their callings but rather other programs.

    I think their is a difference between the scripture “I follow Paul, Apollo, etc” and “I go to First Church” because these were men following other men not teenagers running after programs, although some of the same immaturity is present.

    Also, I agree we that we should be about the edification of our students as in my 4th point about developing leadership.

    I will be expanding and exploring more about the competitiveness in the church and community in my next post.

    Thanks for sharing your voice Matt, we need more of it!!

  3. I used to think that our youth ministry was competing with the church on the other end of our small town. Then I sat down with the youth minister of that “other” church and had a conversation about ways we could work together to reach youth in our community. That changed everything! We know that youth ministry in churches has become much more fluid and we’re committed to working together to help make disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s not about which “tribe’ is right but about whether we’re making obedient disciples who go and also make disciples.

    Great article!

  4. Pingback: Is Youth Ministry A Competitive Sport? Part I « Trainforpurpose's Blog

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