I was scrolling through Instagram and I stopped on video of a youth pastor making a big announcement. What he said made me cringe and it is the very thing you should never say to your youth group.

“we built this for you”

The youth pastor was announcing a new youth room for their students. I am sure the the youth pastor had the best intentions and I do not understand the context so I am basing my three reasons never to say this to your students on the statement alone and why I think it’s toxic to your youth ministry.

You Owe Us

The youth pastor told his students ‘we built this for you so come experience it”. This implies that the youth owes the church something when it is the other way around. The youth pastor could have said, “Our church loves students so much we wanted to make sure you had your own space to build community”. That’s a different tone and communicates that the church believes youth are important enough to invest in.

If you’re try to buy your kids off, they’ll know this was a transaction and not an investment. They’ll know you have no real skin in the game.

I am giving the church the benefit of the doubt, I am sure the church loves teenagers and that is why they invested time and money to build this new youth room, but does statement says, “we did this and you should be grateful enough to show up”?

I don’t know why the room was built. I don’t know if it’s because the youth group numbers were down and they needed a boost or they were growing and needed to expand. Either way, building something for your teens may not solve an underlying problem.

We’re throwing money at you

Once again, this youth pastor is probably doing a great job and loves teenagers, this is not a hit piece on a youth pastor, but the words he used is what I think youth pastors should stay away from.

I have worked for many churches who thought “If we throw enough money at this, we should get results” . So many churches don’t get it. Youth don’t want your money, they want your time.

If a youth group is not building community, preaching the gospel and making disciples, new youth rooms are for nothing. There are many fantastic youth rooms throughout the country that lay half empty every week because a new youth room wasn’t the problem. The problem is the church caring about young people’s needs.

If the church, both from the stage and in the trenches, does not communicate that we care about youth on multiple levels, no amount of money will solve a half filled youth room.

It’s no different than a parent frustrated with their child, who blurts out, “But look at everything I have given/done for you” It becomes all about the parent who was compensating their lack of investment with stuff to ease their conscience, when all their kid wanted was their time and attention.

If you’re in that spot, might I suggest taking the money you would spend on a youth room and make your part time youth pastor, full time or add more interns to meet more needs. Doing this says relationships, not rooms, are important.

We didn’t need your help

I don’t know how much input the church got from the young people whom they are serving, but if they did not involve the students in the process of building the new youth space, both from input and physical labor, they did their students a disservice

“We built this for you” really says “we’re really guessing at what you really want vs listening to what you need.” Churches and youth pastors need to involve student in the shaping of the communities being built.

Church is not a service, church is a gathering

Church is not a full time staff putting things on for it’s congregants like a singing waiter selling the special, church is everyone helping honor God with the gifts they have been given.

Church is not building something for someone, it’s building something together.

I hope that was the case with this youth group. I hope the students were asked

  • what would you like to use this space for?
  • how can we help you reach your friends for Christ?
  • How much time can you give to building this new youth space?

You see, if these questions weren’t asked, and the new youth space fails, it becomes the students fault because they did not appreciate what the church did for them. This is where deacons in board rooms begin to ask,”Why are we spending so much money on the youth ministry when they won’t show up?”

New Flash: They’re not showing up because you keep building things for them, they’re showing up when they understand their role and purpose in your church because you built relationships with them.

“we built this for you” mentality eventually works against you. You may have small gains to begin with but without the infrastructure of love, time, discipleship and relationship, anything you build FOR your youth ministry will fail. Likewise, anything you build WITH your youth ministry will have a greater chance of succeeding.

I hope this new youth room is filled with students every week but if it’s not, I hope the church goes back to the drawing board and discovers the relational component between their youth and the church.

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