The new school year has started and there are many new youth pastors starting their youth ministry position at their new church.
I would argue that what you do in your first 90 days in your new youth ministry position is critical. During the first 90 days, how you spend your time in youth ministry sets the pace and culture for where your youth ministry will be heading. What you do in the first 90 days will either break or build your youth ministry.
I have had to freshly start two new youth ministry positions. My first start went horrible and the second start went a little bit better. Thankfully, I recorded both 90 day periods in my journal, which I recently reviewed over. I also have talked to a ton of youth pastors during their 90 day period. I ask them a lot of questions dealing with: WHY are you doing what you are doing when you first arrived at your church?
So I decided to extrapolated themes, based off of my notes and many conversations with youth pastors in their first 90 days, that I felt were pretty critical for a youth pastor to implement in his/her first 90 days. I found that the goal is to work not IN your youth ministry but ON your youth ministry during your first 90 days. Here is how you can work ON your youth ministry:
Adult volunteers: Just love on the current and existing adult volunteers. The key to loving them is by listening to them. They have a lot of on the ground knowledge. Don’t worry about training them yet. They need to know you know what they know, before you start telling them how to step up their game.
Networking: Network locally and nationally. Go to youth ministry or family ministry conferences. Get in environments where you can surround yourself with like minded youth pastors. Attend regional/local youth pastor gatherings. You need to listen to the guy and gals already on the ground in your ministry context. These youth ministry locals probably can give you a few heads up on what not to do and when not to do it. Consulting with the other youth pastors in your local region can be tremendously helpful when you are navigating youth ministry in a new environment.
Friendships: Befriend all church staff especially the janitor and secretary. Befriend parents and other church members. Not everyone is going to like you, but just put yourself out there so you are giving people an opportunity to begin to build trust and rapport with you. Unfortunately during the first 90 days dont expect to make any new friends outside of the church. Your 90 days will be mostly filled with making new friends inside the church. Also figure out who is friends with who in your church so you are able to begin to understand the relational dynamics at your church. Build relationships with key students and families. Chap Clark calls this exercise writing a socio-gram.
Assessment: Do a silent assessment of the youth ministry programs and students. Ask yourself: what are the real and felt needs of the students? You have to figure out what the students and families need. This is what I call cultural anthropology. Don’t make immediate changes. During the first 90 days: study, observe and listen. After the 90 days, you will have plenty of time, freedom and tactic knowledge to make appropriate and strategic changes after your silent assessment.
Programmatic Structure: Identity when youth programs will happen and why they will happen. Clarify the mission for each program and define what types of students will come to each program. The best way I have found to do youth ministry programming theologically was in the book: Starting Right by Clark, Dean, Rahn– Chapter 6: The Myth of the Perfect YM Model. They call youth ministry programming– funnel programming. Feel free to check out the funnel programming graphic here.
Discipline: Confront bad habits in your students. Whenever there is a leadership change in youth ministry, students will immediately test their new leader. Be ready to correct bad behavior and habits in the program because if there are no boundaries set early, students will not respect you in the long run. Yes students will hate you for doing this, but trust me….. if discipline is not instituted in the beginning you will lose control of your youth group really fast. When I disciplined students I would always say: I love you as a person, but your behavior is really bad. I would affirm their identity but correct their bad behavior. The key is to make the difference between I dont like you (as a person) and I don’t like your behavior. Students always accused me of not liking them when I corrected their bad habits.
Teaching: There is way too much on the line during your first 90 days for you to spend a ton of time writing your best youth group sermons. Buy a great curriculum that has a plan and integrated strategy. I am highly biased because I love and have tested (in my youth ministry) XP3 Students series which is the Orange student ministry curriculum. XP3 Students refines the message in order to reach this next generation, provides a 12 month scope and cycle (basically gives you a 12 month teaching plan), and you will be given access to talk to particular Orange specialist about how to effectively use the curriculum and connect it to a bigger church strategy. Jared Herd, the XP3 Students creative director, did an amazing interview on the Youth Specialties Blog here if you want to learn more about the curriculum. More and more youth pastors need to realize they need curriculum. I argue that in order to do more in youth ministry in less amount of time….. you need to get great curriculum and learn how to contextualize it to fit your youth group.
Prayer: Nehemiah is my hero. This dude planned and prayed in his first phases of rebuilding the wall. So as you plan, assess and study, you need to be praying.
If you have started in 2 (or more) youth ministry positions, please share what you learned in your first 90 day period in the comment section. What would you tell youth pastors as they start a new position at their church this fall? What should they do? What should they avoid?