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New Beginnings: Thoughts On Starting A Youth Group From Scratch

Disclaimer:  This post has been sitting in my queue for the past 7 months.  I kept rethinking, updating, deleting and adding content, which made this post a little long.  So I am sorry for the lengthiness.  

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Starting or sustaining a youth ministry is very unrewarding.  Basically you build and don’t see the fruit and results for a while.

I found myself spending a lot of time working ON my youth ministry and not so much IN my youth ministry.  I would prefer to think about youth ministry systems and strategy rather than think about my youth group sermon.  In the last 5 years it has been my obsessive quest to figure out how to develop a healthy, sustainable youth group.  So I thought it would be rad to share my finding.

This post is ideal for:

–  the new youth pastor who just arrived at a new church

–  the 1st year youth pastor trying to keep his/her head above water

–  a youth worker leading a youth group of 0-35 students

–  a college student who is majoring in youth ministry

–  a youth pastor who loves to think about systems and sustainability

–  a team of lay leaders who are wanting to start a youth group at their church

–  a part time paid youth worker

–  an individual who wants to become a youth pastor

–  a youth worker who is feeling “distracted” and unfocused

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Here is a simple formula that helped me think through how to build a youth group from scratch:

(C + S + S)$ = Healthy Youth Group  

***  p.s. CSS is a web language that brings structure, sequence and style to a webpage just like how CSS will bring structure, sequence and style to your youth ministry.  

C=  Core Values

S= Strategy

S= Staff

$= Fundraising

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Core Values:  Before you start a youth group, you have to know the values that will guide your youth group.  There are three statements that need to be crafted:

(1)  Theological-  What will be your theological focus in your youth ministry?  What scriptures will guide the way you do youth ministry?

(2)  Mission-  What do you want the aim to be for your youth ministry?  The mission statement will define who you are and what you do as a youth ministry

(3)  Values-  what are the essentials of your youth ministry?  What are the non-negotiables?  What 3-5 things define the uniqueness of your youth group?

Remember your strategy and systems will have a greater impact on your youth group culture than mission statements.  So don’t spend too much time on these statements.

Strategy:  You have to decide on a youth ministry strategy.  It took me a LONG time to realized that having a consistent strategy will determine the longevity and effectiveness of your youth ministry.  I had to realize that adopting a “C+” ministry strategy was way better than not having a youth ministry strategy.  Coming from the academy not only was I introduced to many of the major youth ministry strategies, but I learned how to quickly deconstructed them.  I had to get over the fact that there is no perfect strategy and every youth pastor needs to pick a strategy and just stick with it.  Too many youth pastors think it is okay not to have a comprehensive plan or strategy for orchestrating their youth group.

I will never forget listening to a “Systems” talk by Andy Stanley that finally brought me to my knees admitting I needed a consistent strategy for my youth ministry. You can get the talk here or review the notes of the talk here.

Here are 6 reasons why your youth group needs a strategy:

1.  Strategy will give you structure and focus

2.  Strategy requires tested research to be applied

3.  Strategy saves you time

4.  Strategy requires you get other people to assist

5.  Strategy gets your ideas and process in a document format

6.  Strategy automatically gives you a solid network and community of like minded youth pastors

This is why I selected Orange to be my strategy of choice.  Orange fit with my theological convictions and provided spectacular resources and tools that allowed me to execute a family ministry strategy.  A strategy instructs youth pastors on what to do with your parents/families, service, communication, leadership structure, program, volunteers, teaching, and small groups.

Staff-  The book Good To Great talks about getting the right people on the bus so you can conquer the world.  Feel free to read my Good to Great book review here.  The key is finding the right people and get them in the right place.  Make sure to write out what you want your staff to look like.  Draw up an organizational chart, clearly define attributes that you want your staff to exhibit, write out how you will find staff/leaders and the hiring protocol, and how you will train your leaders/staff.  I would highly suggest giving staff/volunteers personality profiles (i.e. Rightpath and strength finders) so you are able to accurately place them in positions they will be passionate about.   In Steve Job’s book he reiterates why organizational leaders need to be great at recruiting and keeping talent. Be persistent at getting great people to be apart of your youth group.  Healthy youth groups attract healthy people.  The goal is to be good at cherry picking people in your church and community and convince them why caring and loving students is an incredible gift.

Money-  Your start up wont be possible if you don’t have the funds.  You need the strategy to get the funds, and you will need funds to fund the strategy.  My annual youth ministry budget was $2500 for 65 6th-12th grade students.  After scholarships, doing 4 events, buying curriculum and bibles and renting vans my budget was gone.  I hated asking for money.  But I had to learn how to do it in a very tactful and compelling way.  This is way I am a huge advocate youth pastors getting some business education so they know the process on how to raise capital to fund the mission of their youth ministry.

My final-cautionary thoughts: It is really easy to do youth group start ups but it is really hard to keep momentum.  At first, things seem to be really focused but over time things will become fuzzy.  This is why every 3-5 months the youth pastor needs to revisit each piece of (CSS)$.  Remember the mission of your youth ministry will stay the same but the plans will always be changing.  Be flexible.

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Questions:

What other components do youth ministry start ups need?

I would love to hear any success/failure stories about trying to do youth group start ups.

What are three behaviors you wish your youth group would do well ? (i.e.teaching, communication, welcoming) And how is your strategy helping to achieve these youth ministry behaviors?

Three of the best youth ministry systems thinkers I know are:  Coach Shef, Jeff Brodie and Jason Chenoweth.

 

 

 

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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5 comments

  1. Great post Jeremy. I’m one of those goofs that love to start/rebuild ministries (I’m actually doing one right now) so this is encouraging to me. “Good to Great” is a great book to read.

    Also, great caution at the end…I completely agree with you on start up to completion. Starting up is fun for me but it’s keeping that momentum and sustainability over the long haul to really make your ministry to be effective.

  2. Jeremy,

    I love the post. Good thoughts, great flow. I think the Theology answers “WHY am I doing this?” The mission answers “WHAT am I doing?” The values come as the answer to “HOW am I going to do this?”

    As you answer those three, you begin to form a strategy. The caveat, that has been discussed a thousand times, is to take time to understand the community you are serving in. Learn the history of what has went on, find out what has worked, what hasn’t, and why? Interview parents, former leaders, students, kids in the community etc. to find common thoughts and trends. Spend a year getting to know the congregation/organization before you make too many wide sweeping changes. Early on I made too many changes too quickly, and had to undo many of them.

    I also love your ideas on strategy. It’s so tough when you’re first starting up to remember that there is not a pre-packaged strategy that will work straight out of the box. EVERYTHING, no matter where it comes from, will need tweaked to fit your current context.

    I love starting new things! It’s so great to see God move in that way. This post hit at a good time (today). I’m in the middle of thinking through some long term changes. Thanks for the push, bro!

    • Jason,

      I love the WHY, WHAT and HOW clarification. I will definitely steal that from you. Thanks.

      Also great reminder about the contextualization piece when deciding on what strategy needs to be at hand.

  3. This post is perfect for me because it is literally my entire youth ministry career. I’ve been at my current church for about 3 1/2 years. However, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “start up” youth ministry as much as it is a “Reformat” youth ministry. A few years before I came to this church, things were going great from what I’ve been able to glean from everyone, but then people started to leave the church, there were a couple of bad senior pastors, the church hit some financial problems, and there wasn’t an active youth ministry for a couple years.

    To me, this is more difficult to deal with than starting from scratch. It’s kind of like starting from below zero. The past 3 1/2 years I have had to work on changing the negative culture associated with the youth ministry and the church in general. It has been very difficult for me. There are times when I feel like I’ve been tied to the back of a horse and taken through the city streets.

    I also didn’t go to school to be a full-time youth pastor. I worked as one part-time in college, so I think that (coupled with my education degree) was a good stepping stone to get to this position.

    Coming in to it, I actually thought things were going pretty well here. I feel like I was a little misled during the interview process. It was a little blind-siding to find out things were pretty rough here.

    One book that helped me out a lot at first was “Sustainable Youth Ministry” by Mark DeVries. He talks about some of the same things you mentioned here (System, Values, and Mission Statement). When you are starting a youth ministry from less than scratch, you have to be completely flexible. I have had to change my approach a million different times. Just when it seemed like something was sticking, people would lose interest. I am starting to think maybe there’s something wrong with me personally.

    I have seen quite a turnaround lately, though. Some of the younger ones who joined the youth group the year I started or a year later are getting older, so they are more dedicated to the group and are interested in providing leadership. The youth ministry has been exorcised of its negative culture, so now I believe it’s time to start putting some more permanent plans and systems in place.

    Thanks for the post. My comment was almost a post in of itself. Sorry for the length (and the off-topicness of it). It’s just nice to get everything out once in a while.

    • Jake-

      I think you and I are smoking the same stuff. I would agree that the reformatting is probably harder than starting up. However there are many similarities. Do you think when reformatting you have to deconstruct and blow up what went before?

      I found that youth workers with an educational background are naturally bent towards strategy and systems. My wife was a teacher and she really helped me understand the insane importance to keep these consistent and structured.

      Sustainable Youth Ministry is my favorite ym book. So great. I also love Tim Keller’s church planting manual. Tim does a great job talking about contextualization in relation to choosing your strategy.

      Shoot me an email if you want to chat more.

      Later.

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