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Youth ministries need critical mass in order to have impact and sustainability. Critical mass means having a commitment collection of teenagers.

Theory of Critical Mass

Youth ministries need critical mass in order to have impact and sustainability.  Critical mass means having a commitment collection of teenagers.

Critical mass is culture specific.  It is determined by  location, teenager clusters, church tradition and values, and community culture.

The problem:  to many youth ministries prematurely launch their mission, vision, and value statement before obtaining a critical mass of students and leaders.  There is a fundamental difference between a student filling space and a student who internalizes the teachings of Jesus.  How many American youth ministries get their branding campaigned launched before they have an invested group of teenagers that are carrying out Kingdom values? I think youth pastors are too eager to get in there and start doing what they love doing before finding people who are willing to follow them.  This may speak to why after two years youth pastors are frustrated with their youth group because apparently their students are not getting it.

My point:  start with discipleship, before branding your youth ministry.  Start investing in teenagers before even thinking about envisioning where to take the youth ministry.  Trust me once you have a few teenagers that get it, it is a lot easier to do God’s work.  The difficulty is being patience and constantly praying that God will send students your way.

I think Jesus understood this idea of critical mass.  In the gospel of Matthew, He asks a few dudes to come follow Him before He fully launched His killer, redemptive, and transformational ministry.

Taking a youth ministry from surviving to sustaining is a difficult 3-5 year project.  I think one aspect to having a youth group that does stuff for God is gaining the right critical mass.

Youth Ministry Critical Mass….

– is not governed by numbers, but by actionable commitment levels (actionable commitment – people are willing to do thing because they believe)

– actionable commitment levels correlate with impact intensity

– reinforces that a group of teenagers are “already” (already is the key word) believing in Jesus, the intentions of the youth pastor, and the youth ministry values

– affirms that students are somewhat excited and passionate about knowing God and doing His work

Every youth ministry needs a critical mass that desire to change the world and they know what it costs to follow Jesus.

**Although…. there is no magic formula to gain a critical mass, except a lot of perseverance, pain, prayer, TIME, tough conversations, action, endurance, faith, and hanging with,talking to, chilling with, being with, praying for, sitting with, and listening to teenagers.

About Jeremy Zach

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

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  1. Great advice!

    I am a part of a co-minister team which leads youth ministry in a local church. Our group has been together for almost a year now and I have begun talking about ministry planning (e.g. long term evangelism/discipleship goals). Yet one of the big challenges we are facing in youth ministry right now is that we have no teens that are committed to following Jesus. And one of the questions that kept nagging me was, “How can we plan to move forward if we don’t have any teens that want to follow?”

    Applying your advice to our situation, I hear that we should be focusing on relationships with teens and their families and connecting with teens in our community (i.e. relational evangelism/discipleship). Is that what you would suggest?

    • @Paul
      Yes! I would highly keep investing in relationships. It is tough especially when kids are not buying into Jesus and youth group. But perseverance my friend. I spent many nights banging my head on the steering wheel in my car asking the question of: what is wrong with these kids. Just keep passionately talking about Jesus and why you love Him, follow Him, and how He transformed your life.
      That is all I got.

  2. JZ.

    great stuff.

    Here is how this applies to our student ministry – specifically in the “worship music” aspect.

    We have no students who are gifted musically and those that could probably stretch and lead aren’t anywhere near the maturity or humility that it takes to stand in front of a group and lead.

    Thanks for sharing, makes me hopeful as I’m finishing off my 2nd year and entering my 3rd at my current church.

  3. Good word Jeremy. In all 3 youth programs I’ve come into as the head, I’ve learned and seen that waiting between 6-12 months (the longer the better) before you ‘brand’ will always serve you netter in the long term. Build relationships with parents and teens and they will buy into changes you make down the road.

  4. “start with discipleship before branding your youth ministry….”

    love it jeremy! too many guys/girls (mainly guys make this mistake though) think that if we get a clever artist to a cool zinger of a logo for our “wednesday night worship time” then we will have kids hooked on showing up, when in reality it is the students themselves that become the gravity for the ministry… the color scheme and design of a youth room is really only worth the price of paint if the hard work of ministry is not instilled first in the lives of those already present… great words man

  5. Excellent essay, Jeremy. The last youth ministry I worked with, I began my time with them by asking how they defined their ministry together and their purpose. Their reponse boiled down to “We are the nice people club.” I spent a year trying to help them to see that their are plenty of “nice people” clubs out there and that the Church is called to be something more.

  6. Jeremy,

    I think another piece to this is understanding that just because a student is in this core crew, and genuinely following Jesus, it doesn’t guarantee a 7 year run through middle school and high school. I think we can often subconsciously believe that once a student is “in”, they will stay there. As they mature, they may swing in and out of this group, all as part of the natural growth curve. We can apply too much pressure and guilt to them, in an effort to preserve what we see as someone we have invested heavily in.

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