In my first full time youth ministry position I had conversations with the senior pastor about how to reach more students. He would always look at me as if it was so simple, and say “just order a bunch of pizzas and students will come. That’s what I did when I was a youth pastor.” Now, if you are actually in youth ministry you know that doesn’t work! Things have changed.
Youth ministry is extremely different today than it was 25 years ago, 15 years ago, or even 5 years ago. Things have changed and we do ministry in a totally different time with different issues and things keeping students from coming to youth group.
So, why do so many of us still do the same things in our ministries? If we want to reach students, (like Jesus has commanded us to, it’s not a suggestion) we need to do ministry differently, and here is how.
1.Think outside of the box!
A few weeks ago we had a missionary couple we support speak at our church. They have been in Nicaragua for 15 years and have planted 4 churches in a place where churches are not thriving, yet theirs are. I asked them what they did, and why they were so successful in reaching people when other missionaries had tried to plant churches and were not successful. They told me the first thing they did was NOT build a church. Once they had land and raised money, they began to build, but not what you would expect. They built a community swimming pool. It was a huge success, people came from everywhere to enjoy it. The second thing they built was a basketball court. Then they built a church after they already had a thriving crowd.
Now, am I saying we all need pools and basketball courts? NO! The lesson to learn from them is not what they did, but how they did it. They thought outside of the box! They saw that just coming in and building a church building wasn’t working so they tried something different. Something unconventional, something that worked.
We need to learn to be innovative and do what it takes to reach students. Too often we see what doesn’t work and keep doing it instead of thinking outside of the box and finding out what does work. Update your methods of ministry! What worked 15 years ago might not work now. So, instead of continuing to do it, do something new. Think outside of the box.
2. Get past the barrier
Oftentimes, as youth workers, we do and continue doing, what worked when we ourselves were in youth group. Or what we observed when we were learning ministry, and/or when we had a fruitful season in ministry. We continue doing what worked then instead of what works now.
We default to a time where we saw God move powerfully in our lives or the lives of our students and the modes that were used stay in our minds as a method that works. The problem is it DID work, not that it STILL works.
Oftentimes as youth workers, or as church people in general, what worked in one generation is what will condemn the next. We need to move past what worked in the past and look to what will work now to reach the students of today. We need to get past the mental and emotional barrier that ties us to a time in ministry and start focusing on the mission of ministry.
I frequently find myself trying to recreate events, atmospheres, and situations I enjoyed in youth group because I know it worked very well. Then when it doesn’t work, I realize I was in youth group 15 years ago. I am not saying everything that was done in the past won’t work today, because that is just not true either. But we need to realize we are not ministering to the same students we were 20, 10, or 5 years ago. Things have changed and we need to do what works now.
A lot of times we do what is most comfortable, but ask yourself ‘is it what is most effective?’ When I feel like my ministry is getting stale, or I am not reaching anyone anymore, I know it is time to change my methods! This is one of the biggest keys to reaching more students, think outside the box!