There has been a shift going on all over the country in youth ministry- in ministry in general, I think. This shift has been a shift away from programs and toward relational ministry. This is good, it is needed, and it is vital that we recognize real change and growth come out of relationships not programs. (Programs can open the door to these things but it is through ongoing relationships that they truly develop).
This is easier said than done though. It’s so easy to slip into programming and call it relational ministry (small groups for example can be excellent means for relational ministry or just as easily become just another part of the program of the youth ministry). I feel frustrated and also blessed to be in a position where we have no choice but to re-evaluate the entire premise and foundation of the youth ministry.
When I started here we had about 40 kids on the roster for youth ministry and about 25 regularly attending youth group. This year we have about 25 kids on the youth ministry roster and about 20 attending regularly. Next year we are going to have about 20 on the roster and unless we change things I do not think we will have even 15 regularly attending. So where do we go? Do we redefine programming and push relational ministry through programs, or do we scrap programming and just focus on relational ministry?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the church’s response to our decreasing numbers. So far they have been supportive, saying that there will be small times and big times. I agree, and I’m not really that worried about the group decreasing in size at this point. But I think we have an excellent opportunity presenting itself to us. With only 20 kids in the church in the age group for the youth ministry we can really work on building solid relationships with them. We can go to games, plays, musical performances. We can take kids out for hot chocolate or dinner or invite families over for dinner or visit families for dinner. We can do these things without feeling overwhelmed because 20 kids is not too many for 5 adults to truly build relationships with. But will the church agree that eliminating most programming is still doing youth ministry? I presented my idea for next year with my pastor and I said that I was going to meet with parents, kids, and leaders and get feed back on my ideas. And he thought that was a good idea. But he didn’t really give me any idea what he thought of the actual plan.
Here’s what I would like to see us doing next year. Perhaps you have some feedback from similar experiences that you can share.
Meet every other Sunday for a time of worship with the whole group. A short lesson and discussion will follow this time. Adult leaders will help lead the discussion and worship, but their primary task will be meeting with each student in their “group” at least once between our worship times. What that specifically looks like is up to them- going to a game, concert, play, etc.; having kids over for dinner; taking a couple kids to coffee; organizing a service opportunity for the kids in their “group”. Essentially, in place of more activities and youth group time with everyone each adult leader should view their role as being a one-on-one mentor, even though not all interactions will be one-on-one.
Have you tried something like this? How did it work? Have you thought about how we can make youth ministry more relational and less program focused?