What Would You Advise Neal Newbie?

Posted on: 08/7/12 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I have a friend who just started a job as a youth pastor for a small town church. When the church hired him, they were emphatic about two “vital” elements:

  1. Don’t change the room.
  2. Make sure you let the pastor know what’s going on.

So much to say… I don’t even know where to start.

I’ll go ahead and refrain from ranting, “Seriously? That’s all you require!!!” …skipping to the more intriguing subject matter. The fact is, my friend “Neal Newbie” hasn’t ever worked in youth ministry before, so this is his first crack at it. He met with me last week and basically asked me, “Where do I start?”

I asked him how many teenagers currently are at the church?

“Two last week.”

I asked him how many volunteers?

“Four.”

There are three middle schools and two high schools within 2 miles of the church. The church currently has a “Sunday School” hour on Sunday morning and nothing mid week.

So what would you tell him?

Rather than me rambling… I’d love to hear what you all have to say first. Use the comments in this blog to give “Neal” some advice. Then I’ll chime in with my two cents later this week. In addition…

WINNER NOW POSTED– A FREE BOOK AS A LITTLE BIT OF MOTIVATION: I’ll select one comment as a winner and give that person a copy of their choice of any one of my books. Thanks to James Huenink who is the winner! I scrolled my pointer down and it landed on James. Congrats James! I’ll drop you an email- tell me which book you want and we’ll get it in the mail to ya! Thanks to all who contributed comments to this post!

MORE ARTICLES ON THIS TOPIC FROM JONATHAN:

7 Qualities I Look for When Hiring a Youth Pastor

Four Numbers That Will Always Matter in Youth Ministry

Three Things That Haven’t Changed In Youth Ministry

Questions to Ask When Being Interviewed by a Church

BOOKS FROM JONATHAN ABOUT THE BASICS OF YOUTH MINISTRY:

Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation

Ministry By Teenagers

Other Books by Jonathan

39 Replies to “What Would You Advise Neal Newbie?”

  1. I think no matter the size of the group, every new youth pastor should start the same way…with relationships. I’m coming up on my 1 year anniversary of my current position and I had several goals and plans for this first year of mine but the overall goal was to get to know my teens and volunteers. I mean spent time with them, talking with them, eating with them, playing with them, worshiping with them, studying with them.
    Too often I see ministry leaders come rushing in to a new place with plans and ideas that are truly all based out of their previous location or from what they experienced as a student but have no idea of the needs and dreams of the people they are now called to minister to.
    About the 2 expectations, I would say…..AWESOME!! More time to spend getting to know those 2 teens and 4 adults. Find a way to implant your passion for God, ministry, and life in them (teens and adults) and allow God to grow the ministry. Don’t fall for the trap of the fast-paced, mile-wide-but-only-an-inch-deep youth ministry.

  2. 2 students is an awesome place to start! I came in to my church with that many, and wasn’t sure what to do. The best advice I can give is don’t neglect those 2 when you are trying to bring in others. Don’t be afraid to focus a lot of time and energy on those 2 that are already there. It’s tempting to want to get as many students in as quickly as possible, but if you don’t build the relationships, starting with those 2, it won’t be as productive. Good luck!!

  3. My wife and I are one month into our newest position as youth leaders at our church. We have approximately 15 jr. highers and 10 sr. highers and I am asking myself the same question. Where do I start? I am taking the same approach as Joe & Josh. Until we know these students and what makes them tick, how they learn, and why they are at church, I am not making any formal plans or goals. Of course I have them, I am just not verbalizing them at this point. I am letting them simmer and as we get to know the students, the pieces will start to fit together.

  4. I agree with the first comment posted by starting with the relationships of the two teens already there and the volunteers. Get to know the two teens by spending quality time with them. No agenda but building upon those relationships with these two. And as you get to know them, also get to know their friends by having opportunities for them to invite their friends to gatherings such as a movie night at your house, trip to the local attractions, wherever and whatever would encourage them to invite their friends and entice kids to join in. This builds up your relations with them and expands your network of teens you can reach and build relationships with also.
    As for the adults who volunteer, make them a part of this relationship building time. Have them host these events or be drivers for your visits to places. Also teach them the importance of relationship with young people first, directing them to the Scriptures which show Jesus being relational with the people He met and ministered to. He never invited them to events first but got to know them personally and met them where they were at. Great example for them to follow as they reach out to the teens. As you reach out, be praying about what and where the Lord would have you start up any structured work. Assign each volunteer along with the youth pastor, a school to be praying for and to discover a way to become involved in the school. Don’t be afraid to let this prayerful approach last a year as you don’t want to rush into something that is not sustainable and not of God. Prayer, relationship building with current teens, new teens and the local schools along with training and preparation of current volunteers and potential new volunteers would be the way to go for at least the first year.

  5. I’m still pretty new to this as well with only a year on staff. I would advise that you focus on two areas of relationships. First and foremost with your students, having a small group to start with makes that a bit easier as you’re not trying to get to know 30 students at once. Secondly, the relationship you develop with the senior pastor is often overlooked or limited to just letting him know what you’re doing. The pastor at my church has been like a father to me as I’ve learned. As a newbie it has been great knowing that he will bring to my attention areas that need addressed but gives me his full support and is always cheering me on.

    Lastly, don’t allow yourself to be motivated by the wrong reasons. Don’t set goals just to avoid being fired or live up to other’s expectations. Maintain your passion for Christ and everything that flows from that will accomplish God’s plan and purpose (not always the same as the church’s).

  6. don’t ever get down about numbers…it seems like thats all that matters to a lot of youth pastors BUT if you had one teen show up it would be worth it! Ministry is about relationships and you have a killer opportunity to speak into these students and give them your attention.

  7. Well– relationships are definitely important, I agree. However, I think he needs to start with prayer. I have a solid 3 youth and they are dedicated kids that come every sunday school and youth night. One of our lessons this past sunday night was on PLOW. How to figure out what God’s will is in your life. P- PRAYER, L – LISTEN, O – Seek out OTHER Christ followers for advice, W – WORD.

    My advice is to pray and seek God’s will right now in the direction He wants you to take and continue making and building those relationships with the two kids you have. Then have a competition. What do kids want right now? How about an iPod or an iPad? Create a competition and see how many other kids those two can invite to church or an event. Have a great time with games, food, and of course a Bible study (that’s upbeat and fun) and then draw for the item!

  8. The above advice about working with relationships with the youth is good, but that’s not the place I would start.

    I was in a similar position when I started as a youth pastor just three years ago. My supervisor gave me a green light to “think outside the box” and “create my own vision”, but he ended up having a number of hidden expectations that I was unaware of. I think the very first thing your friend should do is sit down with the pastor (or whoever is supervising him) and make sure he knows what the boundaries are. When someone gives you two very simple boundaries that really have nothing to do with the ministry, it means that there are probably a number of hidden boundaries that the congregation expects the new youth pastor to know. My first year as a youth pastor was spent crossing those hidden boundaries and getting smacked back in line. It was very painful and emotionally draining, and my ministry suffered because of that.

    I would suggest having a “vision” meeting with whoever is supervising (Pastor or congregational committee). Ask them to help you figure out what the congregation wants the youth program to look like and some of those hidden boundaries and expectations will come out. Then, you can try to meet the ones that are biblical and challenge the ones that are not. This kind of thing is very important, because you can’t plan a long-term strategy without making sure the congregation won’t pull the plug.

  9. Not to over simplify, but if I had to give one piece of advice to someone new in youth ministry, its this:

    WWJD

    What? Really? Thats it? Original much. are you?

    But seriously, the reason we are even in the biz of Stu-Min is Jesus. Jesus set an amazing example for us youth ministers in how to do things. It was all about relationships with God and each other. He had a hundred or so that followed Him around, true. But only 12 that were always there that he poured Himself into. Even still, He only took 3 with Him when things really got interesting. And even smaller than that was John, the One that Christ loved.

    We can’t have 150 John’s in our youth group. Even Christ Himself didn’t have that in His youth group: Mark Yaconelli said it best “If you have a group of 12 kids who don’t understand your illustrations and one of them wants to kill you, you have a youth group just like Jesus!

    So love Jesus. Teach them to love Jesus. Do what Jesus wants you to do. The rest is just extra cheese on the pizza.

  10. 100% agree with the comments mentioned above. In addition, you may want to assist with other church members to start some type of mid-week activity for kids (ex. Team Kids, Awana) of all ages, preferably providing supper. Parents with small children would be all for this. We are a very small rural church and had around 2-3 teenagers until we started a mid-week activity about 6 years ago. Kids and teenagers came out of the woodwork! We have approximately 12-14 teenagers on Wednesdays and they don’t participate in the kids activities; we have separate activities and class for them. The elementary school kids see what the teenagers are doing, look forward to being in the Youth group, and continue to come to church as they get older. We still only have 2-3 teenagers in Sunday School as most of these teenagers’ parents don’t come to church or only go to worship service. We have quite a few elementary school kids at church but many more on Wednesdays. Parents don’t seem to mind dropping off their kids on Wednesday nights. Yes, the food can get expensive if you are not careful, but it is well worth it.

  11. All great advise … but I’m more curious still … 2 teenagers, 4 volunteers … that means one thing to me if the church is only 10-15 families in size, another if the church has 500 people attending every week.

    While this youth ministry appears to just be getting started, what’s the church’s history with ministry to teenagers? What has happened (or not happened) here – knowing can help you to navigate around or thru those past mistakes.

    I’m also concerned with the overall health of the church – only two teenagers showed up … but how many families in the church have teenagers? Why aren’t they there? And the instructions given – really make me wonder about the health of the church. And make the think the best advise is to find another church – then again, this newbie could be the change the church needs to be healthy again.

    Not being aware of the underlying issues in the church will make a new youth ministry much more difficult than it already is. You need relationships not only with the kids and volunteers, but also with the Senior Pastor and the Church Board so you are not blindsided.

    1. Good questions Joe. Yes, the church is actually pretty small. Only a few families with teenagers in the church, a lot of blue hair! Communication with the church leadership is key. And most likely, this youth pastor “Neal” is going to find a lot of outreach to kids in the community, hopefully, with the church’s support.

  12. One word: Invest.

    #1 Invest in the teens personally (inside and outside of the church), communicating your vision to them about their spiritual walk, as well as the youth group as a whole. Two kids with a love for God, plus vision and a passion for the lost around them will naturally grow the youth group in a God-honoring way.

    #2 Invest in the volunteers, equipping them and encouraging them to build personal relationships with teens outside of the classroom.

    #3 Invest in the local schools and community. Small town means people will recognize you wherever you go. Just showing up and volunteering your skills and resources without any strings attached can go a long way to represent yourself and Jesus well.

    #4 Invest in your personal spiritual life. Stay prayed up, read up, and focused in on following Christ day by day.

    #5 Invest in the bigger church. Youth groups should not be isolated from the church. Bring the teens with you to the church picnic, or choir, or work day, etc. The big picture of church ministry is vital to a successful youth group.

  13. I would highly recommend getting Jonathan’s book Connect (not a shameless plug but an honest suggestion). Spend time getting to know the 2 that you do have and building relationships with them AND their families. Then spend quite a few days at the local schools since there are so many in the area. Get the permission from the schools and either volunteer or just hang out at the lunch lines. You can see the 2 that you have and also meet with the other youth in the community. I would also invite the senior pastor to go with him so that would make sure he stays involved and connected as well.
    Another really good idea is to find out about the sporting events and local skate parks or hang outs and just kinda swing by.
    One thing I’ve done that got a lot of people’s attention, I went to the skate park here in my town and there was around 15 or so students around and I showed up with pizza and dr. pepper. I let them have fun digging in and just talking w/ them, letting them know that I cared.

    Since there is not a Wednesday night program or anything established, take the 2 you have and go out to friends houses or somehow get into the kid’s lives and their friends.
    As for the whole room thing, I agree with what other people have said and don’t worry about the room. That’s a battle I’ve learned to just loose in the battle lol.

  14. caviat..I’m just a youth volunteer (used to be youth parent). I think I would start with teaching those two youth and those volunteers how to lead. matthew 9.. Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. ….. it “looks” like the workers/volunteers are not few now.. but compared to the “crowds” you have few! Start going into the towns and villages (schools nearby)… They are harassed and helpless! They are sheep without a shepherd! See where there are harassed and helpless.. no friends? no help with algebra? no money for notebooks? no one to sit with at lunch? Practically, it can look like this: 1.Take a pizza and eat with your two students 2.let them invite a friend to eat with them 3. talk about the hard part of school 4. tell them you will pray about it and write it down in a little notebook that you carry with you 5. Pray for them and their requests everyday 6. Meet with your students that are coming once a week and pray with them for the same request. 7. Watch God work!
    Where do they need shepherding? Leading them to the safe places… away from danger. Talk about dangerous places with them and what it leads to. Use the truth. proclaiming the good news. Pray before planning. Pray before talking and going out! Don’t make it a program but helping students who need help! I’m excited for you. and I will pray for you “neal”

  15. WOW! What a timely article. I just started my very first ministry position as the part time minister of youth and outreach this past Sunday. I felt like he was speaking directly about me. I’m really looking forward to diving into all the feedback above.

    I’ve got a few pages of notes that I compiled as I was in talks with this particular church. I’ve talked to my mentor and one of the deacons of the church extensively. From those conversations I’ve heard “Come in and take it slower than you normally would.” Well I only know one way, wide open!! However another thing that just keeps resonating in my head is that these kids in this particular group need consistency and need to be loved.

    I’ll never forget when I was approached about this position that someone said, “Well you know that isn’t a RICH church!” I was like where in the Bible does it say we only minister to the rich?!? Also I kept getting asked things like how many youth do they have, how many do they have in Sunday School, how many in church, have you read the bi-laws … And to each and every one of those questions I responded, “I don’t know!” … It doesn’t matter.

    I still don’t even know how much I’ll be paid, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t do it for the money, I surrendered to serve so that God can use me to pour into the lives of these young people. We have a generation that needs Jesus more than any other generation has ever needed Him before.

    To the fact of only 2 youth and 4 adults, praise the Lord! That is a start, a fine group. Pour into them brother. People hide in the numbers anyway. Get to know them and don’t worry about trying to promote and do things to increase the numbers. That is man’s way of gauging whether we are successful, if the numbers increase. Build disciples and let God bring more people into the group. I think that is honestly the way to a true and successful group that will have Kingdom impact.

    I don’t even know what I’m going to teach, ha ha! =) Seriously, but since when was Jesus not enough. Be real. Be honest. Be transparent. Love Jesus. Love your kids. Pray for them and pray with them. — Prayer and obedience brings the blessings of God!

    That is enough ramblings for now …

    A man for whom Christ died,
    Chris

  16. I would encourage him to ask questions and listen a lot- to the the pastor, the 4 volunteers, the 2 kids, the parents, the board, the local principal, and see what the locals think about the future, expectations, opportunities for growth; to get an uderstanding of what he’s getting into and what the future could look lie-

  17. What a great group to start with. A group that’s committed regardless of the numbers and the surroundings. Time to start dreaming with these six. What will the culture of this youth ministry look like? How can we most effectively reach out to the community around us? Begin to cast vision before them of what could be, and their vital role in it. Your lucky really, should your group grow by 1000% you have leaders to help cover it! And everyone that comes in will only know the ministry “this way”. So less headaches of people whining about “we’ve never done it that way before”.

    Concerning the room….. don’t worry about that now. Just focus in on the relationships before you.

    Concerning the Pastor: Sr. Pastors catch a lot of flak from their flock. They just don’t want to be caught unaware. Keep him in the loop of what’s going on. That way when he is confronted by others who may not like or understand what your doing with the youth, he is able to be prepared with an answer. If you build this relationship right, he will become one of your greatest allies.

    As always spend quality time in prayer. Can’t feed anything your not feeding on.

  18. The best piece of advice I received before beginning in youth ministry was to be prepared to be there for at least five years, because it takes a long time to build trust with teenagers, and sure enough I didn’t start to see fruit until my third year in my ministry, and there were definitely times in the first two years where I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. I would also advise him to find a youth ministry veteran in his area to build a relationship with.

  19. Again, so much great advice given already.
    I have been at my church working w/teens for 15 years now. The one thing I would change when I 1st started is: I would spend several months focused on praying with & pouring into the adult volunteers, & even seeking to bring in any other adults who might want to come & grow w/us for the purpose of reaching teens for Christ. -The backbone of our youth ministry is the quality of our adult vols’ relationship w/Christ & w/one another. This is the structural foundation upon which the youth ministry is laid-w/Jesus as the corner stone. As the adults get aligned w/Christ & one another- covering the ministry in prayer-God really starts blowing us away. This time of discipling the adults is so fruitful because it is for the purpose of a common mission: to love God and love & reach teens. I love the quote: “God can do more through you in 6 months than you can do on your own in 60 years!” He has truly used grounded adult leaders who truly own the ministry & it’s vision to exponentially grow our ministry.
    However, this is a TOUGH thing to take time to do when stepping into a new ministry because the people are expecting you to be the “savior” of the ministry and to draw students right away and bring instant results. -I fell into this mentality for the 1st year of my ministry, but soon realized that I was jumping through hoops instead of truly walking by the Spirit. As i see how Jesus set up His ministry, He poured into the 12 and even more into the 3, and then things really took off! This is a huge step of faith and “waiting on the Lord.” But the fruit is amazing and will continue multiplying for many years to come!
    And of course you still provide for the students who are there, and even begin discipling them as well, but i would not try & “grow” the ministry through seeking to get a bunch of students coming asap. Let the Spirit direct your team on how to do that when you are all ready. (And yes, if this is something you did, it would be essential to have your pastor’s understanding and blessing) And when the students start coming: AND THEY WILL, you will have a team in place that God will do so much through!

  20. I think this is the best start ever! Seriously, who cares about the room. Just teach Sunday School in there and never use it otherwise.

    My advice? Stop and do some ethnography before you get in deep. The first 90 days in a ministry is crucial! (aka honeymoon period)

    Next, don’t start a youth group! Set up some meetings with principals and say… “Look, I love teenagers and my church wants me to invest my time in the lives of teenagers in town. How can I help?”

    You do that and you’ll have quick, amazing, God’s-in-it-and-I-know-it ministry super fast. It’s great you have 4 volunteers, you’ll need them and another 50 people as you discover all the places God wants your ministry to invest in the lives of teenagers.

    “But what about people who will say I need to preach the Gospel?” Trust me, your church starts serving with their hands, feet, and hearts and people will begin to ask you… “So why do you love us this much?”

  21. Prayer and Outreach!!! Get on campus of schools. So many ideas and opportunities God has put into place for Neal Newbie. The list is endless. Pray and see what direction Christ has planned for you and the people of this church and community.

    First, you have two great students already so introduce yourself to them and start getting to know who they are and you will get the “scoop” of the area just talking with them. Invite both students to bring a friend and meet for a soda or this can be done on campus after service. (Rule Alert: never, ever alone with student). I know we all know that but boy sometimes it just needs to be repeated as a reminder because people start getting comfortable and throw the rule out the window….don’t be that guy!

    Okay, back to your new best friends. They can be a great help in inviting/meeting other students (Good time to throw out an invite challenge! This is fun because, admit it, we all like to win so it gets them motivated especially if there is a shake or pizza involved…hint, hint).

    Plan a fun night through the week with no expectations, no message, and no worship – just fun. It can be as simple as an outdoor movie and popcorn, a sponsored night at the local pool, or just hanging out in the student center playing games (Insert anything fun and cheap here). Be sure to announce this “non-event” at church so everyone knows about it.

    Stop by the schools and introduce yourself to the principals and counselors to let them know you exist and would like to meet some students and spend some time on campus…maybe do a campus clean up at the school and see if any students sign up to volunteer and the opportunity for conversation is in place. Ahh, maybe they would let you get a flyer in the school for your fun night (no two schools are alike when it comes to rules about this so ASK).

    Don’t forget to enlist your four volunteers to help out and be specific about what their role will look like. You need people and as you grow it is imperative not to try and be the “I can do it all” guy so begin working with them now so you can shape the ministry as God gives you vision to. Don’t be afraid to say no to everyone’s “super awesome” ideas and don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Oh, yeah don’t forget to involve the pastor since they want to be in the loop of what is going on…eventually they will not want to know every detail and trust you (Bam!)

    Or…….just start reaching out to the two students in a relaxed atmosphere and let the conversations be real and honest and eventually they will start wanting their friends to meet you and before you know it you have a super group of kids doing ministry together.

    And it would help….read Jonathan’s books. Check out Do they Run when they See you Coming so you can equip yourself for talking with unchurched youth since there seems to be only a few there and you need to meet some to invite to join you.

  22. What would I say to this young and inspired leader? If he asked, I would recommend three things:
    1) Get involved with other YP’s near you via local networks and nationwide via national networks.
    2) Establish a strong working relationship with your pastor and cultivate a continuing conversation about ministry as a whole. How does YM flow with the rest of the ministries of the church?
    3) Don’t stop learning. Keep reading, attending conferences, attend training… Keep learning and growing.

    Finally, always keep your eyes on Jesus, he is the author and perfecter of our faith, and he loves teens more than any of us. Do the ministry for the love of Jesus, and he will direct your steps.

  23. A church with two students who actually pays a youthworker must have SOME sense of vision and investment so I see exciting things ahead for this person! So since you asked for our advice, here are some thoughts..

    The advantage of having only two students right now means that you have extra time to begin volunteering as a coach, as a theatre set builder, etc. at the local schools. Usually there is some type of background check so take care of the details and start participating to see how the life of the schools affects local students. That could end up being your entire ministry, who knows?

    Jumping into that assumption that the church is visionary, utilize and offer your building for events. It may be as simple as asking the congregation to provide some food and hangout space after games or even offering the location for tutoring, teacher’s lunches, or an after school homework help space. And from the very first day, enlist the help and relationship of everybody possible in the church. You never know how significant the oddest volunteer could be in the life of students, so make friends. Lifelong friends.

    Those first two students have the potential to become very special to you. (I named my daughter after one of those!) Cultivate the tremendous opportunity to know two kids very, very well and know that their leadership will affect how the ministry grows. From the beginning, teach them how to lead rather than sporadically lighting from one of their ideas to the other, and recognize their strengths more than just their particular interests. And should the ministry grow, take careful time to assure those two of their ongoing significance to you and to the ministry.

    Last, become a better communicator than you already are. Let everything that happens in that church become aware of your ministry, over advertise everything, and use every form of communication possible in order to reach the highest number of people.

    All the best – I have such amazing memories of each “start up” !

  24. I also have a great “change the room” story. When I started at one church there was already a “youth center”, a cabinish building that had been built for 60s style youth ministry. All of us loved that place and I was so grateful for dedicated space so I would never worry about ruining the Jones Memorial Carpet in the main church. Then someone donated a wood burning fireplace in memory of her husband, a man who had worked with youth before my time there, and I was practically jumping up and down planning talks around the fire, sleepovers, etc. when it quickly dawned on us that we weren’t really ever “allowed” to use it. We had to have someone come in to light it (couldn’t just randomly say, “let’s have a fire on a blustery night”) and it had to stay shiny and sparkling in the middle of the room. Years later, the church built a magnificent space with a kitchen, stage and all kinds of great things that came out of the many ministries there, and that blasted fireplace is still more statue than fireplace. So there is obviously some story behind that “don’t change the room” worth learning and as you take on that story, the ministry will transform the room, trust me.

  25. My advice to new youth workers – or any youth worker for that matter – is to do what you say you’re gonna do.

    It sounds as though “Neal” has found himself a challenging role (with the “interesting” stipulations from the leadership and not a lot of momentum to start with). That’s OK. If Neal wisely makes plans, educates others as to what those plans are, and then follows through with them, he will not only gain the trust of the church leadership, but also grow the ministry, too.

  26. Two things:
    (1) No major changes for the first two years. If you are truly invested in the place, that’s no big deal. Plus, no one knows what they are doing for the first two years! There’s a great Doug Fields book that covers that.
    After some time has past, there should be some “deposit” built up in the church’s trust bank. Until then (or at least 6 months…), don’t push the envelope. If you are going to be at a church for 10+ years, 2 years is only 20% of the time spent there.
    (2) Go to school lunches. There is no better way to make connections than a fresh pizza and some Mt. Dew. Find the few students you know, and have them invite friends. With that, also get involved with the school. Volunteer to help during registration, major test days, reading days, anything that gets you on the campus. Students are wise enough to see that you care because you are always there. The best connections happen outside the Sunday School hour.

  27. In addition to the relationships with the current students, I would become a student of the student culture in that specific area. Where do they hang out? What are the biggest needs? What avenues have been explored in reaching them? Every area is different.

    If it were me I would start, besides the obvious asking the Holy Spirit for direction, by asking the parents for info? They know a lot more than people think. I have been a youth pastor for about eight years now. I can tell you that Parents are a treasure trove of culture information.

    The second thing I would do for the first two months is plan a couple of events that are designed to bring in students. DON’T be afraid to fail. People who don’t fail are not really trying.

    The third thing I would do is listen to the culture of the church. Yeah, its different than the community. Look at the students in the church who are not there. Find out why? You might be surprised by the answer.

    And lastly, be willing to be taught by the Senior Pastor. He is leading the church in the direction that God has given him and does not need a youth ministry as a anchor to what is going on. Find out the hidden expectations and look for clues in what is said to know where he stands. Ultimately, its his reputation on the line. More importantly, its the Kingdom that gets damaged if things don’t go well. After a few months you will have a better knowledge of the church, setting, and culture from which to move forward.

  28. 2 kids/ 4 volunteers… Enjoy it while it lasts b/c pretty soon you’ll be begging more help.

    First thing I do is meet w/ the parents of these 2 kids and listen, listen, listen.

    Then I start to meet w/ these 2 kids and get to know them/develop trust, build a vision in them for discipleship/leadership and outreach.

    Third thing is to develop a 5 year plan. W/ only 2 kids you’ll never have more time for dreaming/planning/strategery. What do I want “my” students to look like when they graduate?

    Always remember that you are new. Your trust quotient is low and even seemingly insignificant mistakes chip away at your credibility. It takes time to establish credibility and trust. You can’t die on every hill. Save your capital for the truly big fights and let the little ones slide. If you don’t, you won’t last 30 months. You’ll be burned out or fired or both.

    I was 5 or 6 years into youth ministry before I was really able to see the fruit of my ministry. It was also about that long before I was really trusted by parents. The longer you are “in” the better, it gets. Maybe not easier, but better.

    Wes

  29. It was 1 year and 3 months ago that me and my family moved to a small church in Montana, a population of 3,000 people and that counts the prison. Anyway I started off at a small church in a small town with just two teens that is it. No help, or helpers, just me and my wife. The advice I would give you is this: (I typed this up and put it on my wall in my office after a month of being at this church) What is my # 1 objective – My relationship with God, My relationship with my wife and kids, and spending time with students. It is easy to NOT develop your relationship with God when you are in ministry because you are focused on other people, programs, and struggles, stay close in your walk with God don’t neglect Him our your family. You keep Him FIRST and Close then He will guide and direct you.

  30. An advisor of mine as I was first starting out told me to first build credibility with the pastor, the parents, and the students. From there you see what there boundaries are and what they see as the most pressing issues. Also, this allows you to see where the “hidden boundaries” are that are not being explained in the first two stipulations. Since now is the time of your ministry that you will have the most time, use it wisely by building trust and letting them see your true intentions.

  31. First, talk to your pastor. What is his vision for the church? If he doesn’t have one, ask him what he thinks a youth ministry should look like. What does he want high school graduates to look like? What does he want them to be able to do? What does he expect them to be doing? How would he like/expect them to be involved in the church (not just on “youth days” but week in, week out). Work with this vision or idea, not against it. If you can’t work with it–leave. Don’t waste your time banging your head on the pavement. Working against your pastor is a losing situation for the church and for you and the teens will be caught in the middle. When you get fired or asked to leave, some of them will never go to church again.

    If you are on staff and you have friction with the pastor, remember that you must work with your pastor, because like it not, he is the “Lord’s anointed” at this time. Even if the pastor leads out of fear, you must support him. Follow David’s example of supporting Saul. It is the Lord’s job to remove inept leadership, not yours. Always keep an open and forgiving heart–you may find out after awhile that the old man is actually right and you were wrong.

    You must never talk negatively about church leaders unless they are involved in something immoral/illegal/etc. Follow Matthew 18.

    1. Read your Bible for your own spiritual journey. Everyday. This is not negotiable; if you don’t do it, you should quit. Do not use your preparation time for your teaching as your quiet time, otherwise you are just preaching/teaching to yourself instead of the teens, and you’re exposing to everyone with half a brain what issues you are struggling with. Not only that, if you aren’t repentful about those issues, you’ll be teaching the same thing over and over. If you aren’t growing, you can’t realistically expect those around you to grow either. The Holy Spirit flows out of the godly person and captures others for Christ. If you quench the Holy Spirit in your own life, it doesn’t matter how charismatic or great at organizing or whatever it is about you, because whatever you’re doing isn’t built on the supernatural power of God and it will crumble.

    2. Always find something to read/study that makes you a better leader. If you don’t like to learn, then quit. Why? Because you already have.

    3. Grow up. Teenagers don’t need another teenager in their lives, they already have plenty. They need an adult to teach them how to be adults. Put the video games away unless you are bonding with your students or your own children. You don’t need to be good at a game anymore. In fact, being bad at Halo, Call of Duty, Madden or whatever is good humility practice. Teenagers that aren’t good at a game expect to be beaten by their peers, but it’s humiliating to be beaten by an adult. Being really good at a video game is a trumpet call to other adults what you do with your spare time. Combine that with a few not-so-prepared teaching times/events and you’ve got a problem.

    4. Call and/or answer the phone! TALK to people. Your ministry will grow because of relationships, and these don’t grow with texting all the time. If it takes more than 3-4 texts to complete what needs to be done, talk on the phone. Texting is a great tool, but it takes more than just a hammer to build something–and texting is not even close to being that important of a ministry tool as a hammer is for carpentry.

    5. Once in awhile, use texting with absent teens to include them in a Bible study. Have students that are present text their friends w/discussion questions.

    6. You need endvision. Set the bar impossibly high–we serve a Lord who is quite proficient at accomplishing impossible things. Forget about what teenagers can be capable of–what should a Christian look like after 6 years of discipleship? Read Acts carefully–what did the disciples look like after 3 years with Jesus? What were they doing? Make a plan for accomplishing the endvision based on what Jesus did with His disicples and what they did in Acts, not on what American culture expects of teenagers (a very low bar). Make them dependent on Scripture and the Holy Spirit, not you. You should be making disciples that make disciples that make disciples, etc. Do you want to be a great youth minister? Make your students great.

    Combine your meetings to be on days when others are usually at church anyway. This makes for very long Sundays and Wednesdays, but provides free nights for family time for you and them. Consider having breakfast meetings and after church lunch meetings.

    When you have a meeting, it should be well-organized and useful. A number of people have to attend meetings that are a complete waste of time at work, and they don’t want to do it at church. Think of the wasted meetings in “The Office.” If the meeting isn’t ready, cancel it and reschedule for when you are ready. At the same time, keep the information simple and easy to pass on.

    If sports are that important, get used to watching it on DVR. We don’t serve the NFL, NBA or MLB or whatever. We serve Jesus. Who is your Lord? Remember that part about growing up?

    Have some expectations of your youth workers and hold them accountable. You shouldn’t be doing all the visiting, teaching, discipling. Keep them trained and motivated. Give reluctant workers a small part to do at first and ease them into it. This is what Jesus did. Even Jesus had 12 disciples to help with the 72 and the 120. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Make them great and teach them to make others great, and so on.

  32. Learn how to use Bible-storytelling. A good chunk of teaching of Scriptures in the Bible was using this method because many people didn’t know how to read. Ever hear a teenager struggle through reading a passage? He’s not fully literate–that doesn’t mean he’s stupid. However, teaching him like he is fully literate isn’t going to connect with him–he just won’t remember it very well.
    If you teach using stories, they are much more likely to remember the stories, and they don’t have to remember “memory verses” word for word that have little connection to them. Give me a student that knows lots of Bible stories over a student who has random verses memorized every single time.
    Ask these questions: what does this story tell us about people? Is there anything you don’t understand about the story? what do you like/dislike in the story? what does this story teach us about God/Christ/Holy Spirit? How should a true believer respond? What about you (to the students)–what do you need to change?
    Finally–a good last question–“who do you know that needs to hear this story?” Have them sharing the stories with their friends and reporting back what happened. This makes for a great sharing time and prayer time.

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