A few weeks ago I listened to a nationally known youth minister speak to his youth group. It was a recording of course, but I had hit a dry spell inspirationally and needed something to kind of jolt me and get my gears turning. So I tuned in to this youth minister’s videos on YouTube. This guy was a great speaker. Everything flowed together as he moved from one point to another, and he incorporated a lot of flash and pizzazz in his message.
But if I were a teenager who had never been inside of a church before, I would have had no idea what he was talking about.
Now what I heard may have been their program for deeper learning, but he used a lot of phrases like “in Christ” “saved” and “covered by grace.” Though these phrases stuck out to me, I am guilty of them too! As youth pastors, we sometimes assume everyone who comes through our doors has been in church for as long as we have.
One characteristic of effective youth ministers is that they lead unassuming youth ministries. There is nothing remarkable about them as individuals, quite the opposite actually. The remarkable thing is that they address students of all levels. They don’t assume that a student is saved, baptized or holds a Masters of Divinity degree when they enter the doors of the youth ministry. They have a program that is easy for a non-believing teenager to understand.
So what are some practical ways to make your youth ministry more unassuming?
Watch the vernacular you use when you speak. Explain words like “saved” to mean “a person who has accepted Jesus as the center of their life.” Replace words like “covered by grace” with “God has forgiven me and I don’t deserve it”.
Even though you spent years getting your degree, youth group is not the place to show off the big words you learned in Greek and systematic theology classes. Save them for another occasion.
A big help for non-believing students is the environment. Make sure the colors and layout of the room are warm and inviting. Make the non-believing student feel at home when they come in.
Assign some of your core students to shake hands and welcome visitors with a warm smile. I shudder to think how many students might have visited my youth group and never received a handshake or a smile from another student.
3. Put yourself out there
I know youth group time is usually crazy. You’ve got that one student who wants to talk to you about their boyfriend/girlfriend for the 30th time this week, the parent who needs to ask you a quick question about the camp deposit that was due last month that they didn’t pay, and you’re trying to get home to spend some time with your family before the little ones go to bed. But take a second after youth group to tell visiting teenagers that you hope to see them again. Your presence makes an impression on those students: either as the friendly and interested youth pastor, or the aloof, never around, always-in-a-hurry youth pastor.
No youth ministry or youth minister is perfect. Rest assured you are not the only one out there. But we can all take steps to making our youth ministry a little more unassuming!
Kevin Patterson is the Associate Pastor and Minister of Students at Spring Bayou Baptist Church in Kevil, Kentucky. Kevin is a 5-year veteran of youth ministry, spanning from volunteer and part-time ministry to full time. You can find more from Kevin on his blog at http://www.lifeintheymfishbowl.blogspot.com and on Twitter @PastorKev_SBBC.