If you’re new here, and are not caught up, you can start this series here.
If you are a Youth Pastor working hard to keep their youth ministry afloat, I feel for you, but you are working too hard, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Physically you’re work too hard (the set up, the planning)
Mentally you’re working too hard because the lab in your brain is never closed.
Emotionally, you’re working to hard because you think you’re the only person, Elijah Syndrome.
Spiritually, you’re working too hard because you believe all the work you’ve been putting in should reap a bigger reward.
Maybe it’s time to re-structure the youth ministry where you’re not working alone and you are not bearing all the burden.
You say, “But Paul, I have a team of people helping me”. Then why aren’t you leaning on them more? Why aren’t you sharing the burden more? Why aren’t you spreading out the responsibilities more? You can have a team of people and still be doing all the work yourself because you don’t want to inconvenience others. If your youth ministry is in decline everyone in your church from the Pastor to the janitor has to have skin in the game.
Youth Ministry decline isn’t a youth pastor problem, it’s a church problem.
According to author G. Richard Shell, you will need all your resources, budgets, and information to leverage the rock of decline into a rock that is moving and gaining momentum.
Regardless of the size of your church, you have way more resources than you know.
Your current students are a resource, even if they are private school and Christian school, which is the situation I am in now. I have three students who go to public school, but they are all in the same boat. This is their youth ministry and I appeal to all of them, not through guilt or shame, but through patience, empathy and sharing responsibility. We have to make the best program we can and make it worthy of inviting others.
Your facilities are a resource. How can you turn your youth space into more than a twice a week venue to a few students? Maybe you could offer after school tutoring or run an after school program for middle school students. Maybe you could open up your space for other youth clubs in the area or your local schools. Maybe you could start a recovery group for teens using Celebrate Recovery or something like it.
If you have lots of property, start a summer camp program for teens or teach camping skills. Offer the local Boy Scouts a place to do campfires. Start a wilderness program where you take underprivileged students camping.
How does this benefit your youth ministry? Some of it won’t, not directly but your churches name will be in the mouth of your community more than it is and someone who has been on your property might recommend your church to someone else.
The more you open your facilities to students, parents or the community at large, the more opportunities the community gets to see that you have a youth program.
Your vehicles are a resource. If you have a bus or van, offer to help shuttle sports teams to their next game or take seniors to the grocery store. Yes, I know there would be insurance issue, but it’s funny how those issues get worked out if everyone sees stopping and reversing youth church attendance decline as a priority.
You could offer to pick up students from a local apartment complex or neighborhood.
You could offer to drive students with medical conditions to their doctor appointments.
Jesus tells story of the great banquet,
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
If your youth ministry in decline, you have to change your mentality from “Come and See” to an outreach mentality of “Go and get them”
Too many youth workers are asked to make bricks without straw. Whether the church is withholding funds or redirecting funds, you have to advocate that you need a decent budget to be at least competitive.
In my book The Youth Ministry Playbook, I have budget review sheet where you can track where you are spending your money each month. It’s nothing fancy. This sheet is in the book as a reminder that where you’re spending your money has a direct impact on who you are trying to reach.
Let me direct, how much do you spend on trying to make your current kids happy and how much do you spend on outreach to new students? How much do you spend on fellowship and how much do you spend on evangelism?
Maybe it’s time to put together a plan and ask your pastor if you can present it to the board? How would you spend and extra $1,000? $5,000? You’re the youth pastor and you have to advocate for the ministry. If you don’t, no one else will.
Data is a powerful tool in your arsenal if you know how to use it. Why do you think the internet collects all your data? They want more information about you so they can sell you more things. It’s time to go on a fact finding mission.
What do you know about the students you have?
Have you ever asked your student, “What would it take to get your friends here? What could we plan together that would excite you enough to invite them?”
What are current trends you see in teens/families in your community?
When was the last time you talked to your mayor or police chief about what’s going on in your city? I have done ride alongs with police officers and they showed me all the trouble spots and shared with me what they’e seeing from their perspective.
When was the last time you attended a council meeting in your city to hear what people’s concern’s are? Yes, they’ll be lot’s of complaining about pot holes and garbage pick up, but you may also get insight into the lack of social services or hear that their are no activities in your town for teens.
When was the last time you spoke with your school’s principals or teachers to find out the kinds of things students are going through? Why not invite your principal to lunch or at least send them an e-mail asking some key questions and and offer to assist in any way you can.
What are people saying online?
Say what you want about Facebook, but almost every city has a What’s Happening group where people share what’s happening in their city. There’s a wealth of information as well as the opportunity to connect needs and supply. These groups are also a great place to ask question like, “How can churches do a better job of ministering to teens in our city/town?” Trust me, you’ll get some feedback.
Searching your city’s #hashtag on Tic-Tok or Instagram can also be a way to see what’s happening in your city.
If your youth ministry is in decline, sitting in your church office or at home isn’t going to change anything. You have to put your resources to work, make a budget that meets real need and gather data that will help you create a strategy to meet needs in your community.
For all the evils in the world, I think apathy is one of the most dangerous – Chris Long
If your youth ministry is decline, it’s quite possible that’s it’s not because of a lack of resources, budget or information, it might be that you don’t care enough to explore all your options. Apathy is your real enemy. The church who cares the most, wins.