What youth ministry should look like

Living-Room-Small-GroupI walked into the small church Fellowship Hall in Richmond, VA and it was busting at the seams. 300-plus teenagers and about 70 leaders—better than a 1-to-5 ratio of adult to teen.

Don’t be intimidated by the numbers… be challenged by the ratio.

This was a church of less than 1,000… no building (they were borrowing the Fellowship Hall from a neighboring church). Normally, they met spread out in living rooms all over the city.

It was fun to see the energy in the room. Each table had six to eight kids and one or two adults all laughing, talking, and eating pizza together (there’s that ratio again). It was the beginning of their D-Now weekend (D-Now stands for Disciple Now, a weekend retreat of sorts focusing on the spiritual growth of teenagers). I was the speaker, but it wasn’t me who would be making the big impact that weekend… it was the 70 adult leaders who were spread throughout the room connecting with kids. God was using these caring mentors to make a huge difference in the lives of these teens.

What was their secret?

The church was less than a year old. A group of about 600 people had left another church (a denomination who decided that Jesus was just a nice guy, one of many ways to salvation). The church has been without a facility, which means any midweek efforts to connect as a youth ministry has been scattered throughout various restaurants and houses in the greater-Richmond area. This requires plenty of caring adults who will hang out with kids at these countless locations across the city each week– a good problem to have, because it forced this growing church to connect adults with kids. In fact, they have about 50 adult leaders involved weekly connecting with 250 kids in these scattered small groups. When they came together every once in a while, like this weekend, for a weekend of spiritual growth, the numbers grow even bigger.

This made an especially potent D-Now Weekend. Each time I finished speaking, age-specific and gender specific groups of 6 or 8 teens would pile into vehicles with their adult leaders and head to a host house where they would dialogue about what they had just heard. All weekend leaders kept approaching me, “We had an amazing talk last night about what you shared. Kids opened up and started sharing from their hearts!”

Imagine that.

A church is forced to recruit caring adults and find locations where they can connect with kids each week. The result? 250 kids connected with adult mentors who spend time with them weekly.

This is what effective youth ministry looks like.

How can you use what you have to connect caring adults with young people?

What are the hurdles you have to leap?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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10 Responses to What youth ministry should look like

  1. Carrie Dugai says:

    Thanks, Jonathan, for the great post. As one of those adult mentors (and the church administrator) I agree completely that we are doing the best we can to raise the teens in our church and in our community to be Christ followers. I’m continuing to pray for you and your awesome ministry.

  2. Mary Jones says:

    My 3 kids attended DNow and I was a host mentor. My kids attend a weekly small group meeting at 6:45am. Yes, teenagers voluntarily get up an hour before they have to on a school day so they can build relationships with others & with God. As a mentor, I get just as much out of the DNow weekend as the teens. 60% of the kids attending did not worship with us regularly Sunday mornings. They were there becauseca friend invited them. When we had a church building, it felt weird to think about giving it up to worship in a school cafeteria on Sunday. A year later, it would feel weird & restricting to have a church building. Its been great to see these kids lead the charge to bring God out to the community, at Burger King, Chick-fil-A and Panera. God tells us to go OUT and make disciples, not go behind closed doors & meet at the church. Thanks for giving our youth plenty of thought provoking material. “Shotgun for you!” is our new family attitude!

  3. Donna Browne says:

    I would like to address the inaccuracy of this article as it relates to the “other” church, of which you have no knowledge. We don’t believe that Jesus was “just a nice guy”, but rather is our Lord and Savior and the only way to salvation. Please make sure you check your facts before publishing next time. In my belief, judgment is reserved for just one.

  4. Lisa Williams says:

    We were a host home for the event. I must agree with Donna Browne….please check your facts. I attend the ‘other’ church and we’ve always believed and preached that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

  5. Karen Berry says:

    Thank you Jonathan for your wisdom and ministry. What you have just posted here is GREAT! It would be really wonderful to have that response from the adults, and to have that many teens as well. Our church consists of approximately 25 people in a small town of 4,000 that has a church on every corner. My husband is the pastor ad I have bee in youth ministry for 25 years. We have been in this location for about two years. The dynamics in our small church is such that we have people that are struggling in their walk, people who are knowingly in sin or people who are going through the motions or the handicapped and very elderly. I realize that describes every church really, but when the church is so small, it is very limiting. There are really no qualified adults or any adults that are even stepping up anyway. What advice would you give me at this point? How do you work within a church with those dynamics to get what you have described here? And yes, of course I have been praying. We have about 5 who attend youth group now. At the highest point in the last two years we had 25! The thing that changed was that the group consisted of college age and highschool students and now its middle school only. Which is fine, I have ministered to all ages, it’s just that the seniors in the group graduated and the local college kids moved on out of the area. I also know it isn’t just about numbers, I minister to whoever the Lord brings and I give it my all for one student or for ten students. I am just trying to paint a picture so that you, or someone may be able to give me some insight at this point.
    Thank you so much, Karen

  6. Bad Pastor says:

    You might check out this article written by a member of the clergy in the PC(USA), the denomination which the former church was a part: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2015/03/17/im-a-presbyterian-minister-who-doesnt-believe-in-god-2/

  7. Stan Parcell says:

    And so all of PC(USA) is to be understood in light of one person’s statement? I read the blog and then searched for the pastor’s name. Within a page or two of the front, Google has articles about how this person regularly thumbs his nose at the denomination. That’s exactly how all of our tribes should be identified – by the fringes. Dispense with the finger pointing; it is bad form.

    Like Donna and Lisa, I am one of the few that stayed in the denomination at that location. Like them, I can confirm that we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior every Sunday, beg for the forgiveness of our sins, and rely on His justice and grace for that forgiveness. Please come back by and see for yourself.

    D Now was planned and hosted at our facility for over a decade before the split. We all have had kids participate, most of us have volunteered homes, meals, mentoring, and love to these kids – regardless of whether they attend any of the churches or not. This year they put on a canned food drive & I was ecstatic that none of the girls that rang our doorbell knew whose house it was. I gladly donated. It is a shame that the split was so acrimonious that the leaving group feels that they cannot ask to come back and host the event in our space. We all play on the same team for the same Christ – we are arguing over nuances of doctrine and thus are pushing away people that need what we offer. Most of the people attending don’t follow this stuff; they know when they have the fellowship of a covenant community and that they belong to the group. That is how all congregations can be led by sinners, no matter how they sin. Some may doubt, some may live immoral lives – according to some groups, just being a woman or divorced is enough to keep you from being a pastor. Some are just more easily seen for what they are and do.

    The peace of Christ be with you always.

  8. Missy Hardwn says:

    Stan, Lisa and Donna, thank you for your voice. I am trusting in Gods providence and timing in all that took place. Keep following, trusting Jesus and kingdom building and I am confident healing will continue and comments like this will show us the where we need the help of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide and grow us. Thank you for proclaiming Jesus as your Lord and Savior

  9. Rodney says:

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