Revitalising Youth Ministry
- Written by: Brian Holden
In 2022, Brian Holden led a group of children’s, family and youth ministers on a tour of Queensland churches with growing children’s and youth ministries. This trip took place as part of a ‘community of practice’ - intentionally exploring different approaches to working with young people. They attended some of the youth events and meetings, and met with the youth leaders, staff and clergy in each church. The following is a collation of thoughts from the team as they reflect on what we learnt.
INVESTMENT IS KEY
If you prioritise children’s ministry it will grow … Some churches did this by investing in modern buildings, spaces and resources. Others had everyone in the leadership read and discuss books like Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church (by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin and Jake Mulder, Baker Academic, 2016) to better understand how to grow children and youth ministry and why it is important.”
“The churches we visited had children and youth as a strong part of the church’s culture and DNA. This was clear when we talked to the senior leaders – they had taken the time to invest in the ministries to young people.”
Youth Leadership Training
- Written by: Matt Jacobs
One of the challenges of youth ministry in a semi-regional community like the Southern Highlands is that — similar to rural youth ministry — lots of our school leavers move away. We’re close enough to Sydney, Wollongong and Canberra for those uni’s to be good options, but far enough away that a daily commute won’t work. The impact of this on youth ministry is that the crowd of usual suspects for youth leadership (school leavers, young adults, young workers) aren’t quite there; we have about 15 year 12 students this year, and almost all of them are moving away next year.
In Bowral, we’ve been working on two approaches to this; both come with strengths and weaknesses.
- Encouraging the part-timers.
This year, we’ve been blessed to have some of our keen Christian uni students choose a part-time option: from Sunday night through to Friday morning, they live and study in Sydney. Then on Friday they make the journey back to the Highlands; they live with their families on the weekend, they come to church here, and they serve in youth ministry on Friday nights.
It’s a great expression of young people graduating from youth ministry, and wanting to give back to the ministry as they move into the young adult years. They come with experience in the ministry, enthusiasm for the ministry, and relational connection with the young people they’re leading. But the cost is time to connect with their uni friends, and deeper involvement in uni ministries.
So while the ideal is to have youth leaders stick around for the long-haul, and lead a bunch of kids from year 7 through to year 12, we can realistically expect a couple of years before we encourage them to make the move full time. A big part of my leadership of the part-timers is acknowledging the sacrifice they’re making, and encouraging them continually.
- Training young people to serve.
The other approach we’re working on is to train up year 10-12 students and encourage them to serve on Friday nights.
Ruth Lukabyo has written a brilliant study of youth ministry in Sydney from 1930-1959, and notices two trends: youth ministries that are run by the church for young people, and youth ministries that are run by young people themselves. A big strength of the first model is quality control, but the cost can be a drop in youth engagement. A big strength of the second model is high engagement (and often dynamic growth), but the cost can be a lack of quality control that can lead to the introduction of heterodox teaching.
The ideal then, is a healthy partnership between church leadership and young people, where young people are given space and opportunities to run ministry, in the context of a happy partnership with church leadership to maintain the quality. So we’re doing two things towards this:
Opportunities — we’ve started inviting year 10-12’s along to our planning meetings to give them a glimpse behind the scenes. We schedule a handful of nights each term where they can run the activities, MC the night, lead a prayer spot, teach us the memory verse. Jimmy is one of our young guys who shows a lot of initiative, and has great people skills; this term I’ve offered him a project of finding 5 people to interview in our Friday night program to share their testimonies. The bonus of this is that our young adult leaders have a lighter load on these parts of the program, and can give their time and attention to discipling their youth in discussion groups.
The main part of our program I keep to the ‘for youth’ model is our discussion groups. I want our senior youth to still have this part of the program for them, with no pressure to lead but time to discuss God’s word, be encouraged together, and pray for each other.
Training — for this to work well involves lots of training! Which we’re working at in three ways: on-the-job; with other local churches; and at Youthworks’ Leaders in Training (LIT) camp. As our youth sign up to have a go at things, we do some on-the-job training. They’ll get a 1-page outline of the job they’ve signed up for, and some ideas to get them started; then freedom to have fun with it. After they’ve had a go, we invite them to our debrief meeting to sit with the team and reflect on how the night went - this is great for self-reflection and feedback, and helps them to feel like part of the team.
For more formal training, we’ve just started to run a training afternoon in partnership with another local church in the school holidays. We include a short Bible talk and 2 training workshops to teach some youth ministry skills, and we finish with a load of takeaway and laughs. Our big goal is to build the sense of partnership and friendliness between our churches as we all serve Jesus in our places. And our big set-piece training event each year is sending all our year 10-12 youth off to LIT; a camp run by Youthworks to train young people for youth and kids ministry. This is an excellent week away with stacks of other youth and leaders from all over NSW that does a far better job at training than we could alone. The biggest win for us here is the great culture that LIT sets, of young people serving in their schools and churches, for the glory of Jesus.
While it’s not quite my ideal of a team of adult leaders discipling a group of teenagers all the way through their high school journey, I’m starting to see that a happy partnership between a sacrificial, servant hearted team of young adults, and an eager group of Christian teenagers having a go can be just as effective.
The Rev’d Matt Jacobs is youth minister at St Jude’s Bowral in the Southern Highlands of NSW.
The Challenges and Opportunities of Youth Ministry in Rural Australia
- Written by: Tim Stevens
There is often a bit of a time lag as things from the city slowly make their way to country Australia. I work as a vicar and a youth encourager in the Armidale Anglican Diocese, and we have yet to see an UBER, a Krispy Kreme doughnut, and traffic lights in most of the towns in our region.
They're all trivial examples, but the same could be said more broadly of Gospel ministry in the bush, and specifically of youth ministry in country Australia. As I think about Youth Ministry in our part of the world, the teaching of Jesus that immediately comes to mind is His famous challenge, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few" (Matt 9:37b).
This verse of scripture has taken on new meaning for our city friends in recent years. We've all learnt that a lack of human resources in agriculture can severely impact the dinner table. The same is true for ministry to youth in country Australia.
In this edition of Essentials, Graham Stanton has encouraged us to keep putting ministry to young people on the agenda; to resource it and to make it a priority. Just like the cities, this is something that country Australia needs to remember too. Though, just like taking a ride-share, eating sweet treats, and sitting in traffic, we in the country are often way behind when it comes to being able to resource ministry to young people.
Growing up, I had the blessing of having a steady stream of well-trained and well-resourced youth leaders in the church my family attended. Even during my ministry training, there was always capable, trained, and resourced Youth Ministry in the churches where I worked. This caused a shock because I realised how rare my experience was as soon as I left Sydney. Oh, the blessings I received while thinking my experience had been normal.
In my part of the world, at the time of writing this article, we do not have one theologically trained youth minister working in our Diocese. At various points in our recent history, we have had such ministers, but their appearance is often sporadic and only for a short time.
In reality, churches can often only support a youth minister part-time or for only a short time. This means that we rejoice at their arrival, then only a few years later, we often say goodbye as they head back to the big cities. In the bush, longevity is often crucial in becoming an accepted community member. Pushing through these early years is often challenging and isolating, and by the time the point of acceptance comes, the money has usually dried up, or something full-time has popped up somewhere else. Despite this, we rejoice in the many keen and committed lay people who keep the doors of our youth groups open so they can run each week.
Though the reality is that among the regional Anglican dioceses in Australia, Armidale seems to have more going on in terms of deliberate, proactive, & Gospel-driven ministry to young people. We currently have around 20 youth groups across our large geographical area, with about 350 young people. We run many events during the year that draw in most of our young people, who are trained and encouraged in their Christian walk. This shows us that there is a massive hunger for teaching and training opportunities.
Most regional Anglican Dioceses in Australia can only dream of such “huge” numbers. Across the board, youth ministry in the country is often a struggle.
Another aspect of country Australia is that people on the land are often reluctant to accept help. So let me, a still not-local, give you some ways that you could help the Gospel go out to young people in the regions.
Firstly, please pray for the country areas in our nation. Pray that the God of the harvest will send out workers for the harvest. Pray that God will equip churches financially and with Godly people so the Gospel can continue to go out among our future generations.
Secondly, encourage the young Christians in your sphere to consider moving to a country area to make a difference for The Gospel in regional Australia. One of the significant challenges we have in our Diocese is that almost all of our High School graduates leave to study at a university in a big city. The reality is that almost none of them come back home. If you have godly and capable young people in your ministry, we'd love you to give them the vision to come, or come back.
Thirdly, could you consider bringing a group of teenagers on a holiday trip to a small country town with faithful ministry? You might be the difference that will mean a small church could run a holiday kid's club for the first time. The church would get the benefit, and your young people will be exposed to a whole new world and have their eyes opened to God's blessings on them while gaining a Gospel vision for other places.
Fourthly, could your church partner with a rural church to help them employ a part-time youth minister? You could also help a rural church with the material resources so that they can take their part-time youth worker to a full-time workload. Working part-time, a youth minister is probably struggling to connect with their local high school in a meaningful way. Getting some help to move to full-time could help their town's ministry in ways you might not imagine.
Finally, you might be a youth minister in the city reading this. I hope this short article might have got you thinking about whether you could come and help what God is doing in the bush. Just like a box of Krispy Kremes being carried off a freshly arrived plane from the city, we'd love to have you join us!
Tim Stevens is Vicar of St James’ Guyra and the Youth Encourager for the Armidale Diocese.
Finding a good youth minister
- Written by: Graham Stanton
Where can I find a good youth minister?
In over twenty years of youth ministry training there is one question I’ve been asked more than any other. The most frequently asked question comes from church leaders, be they rectors, vicars, or senior pastors who all want to know, ‘Do you have anyone good who we could employ to be our youth minister?’
There’s a lot to like about that question: These churches want to employ people to work with young people. These church leaders don’t just want anyone, they want someone ‘good’. And there’s an assumption that training institutions (or at least those that I’ve been connected with) are the kinds of places where you’d go to find such a ‘good’ youth minister.
Unfortunately, going hand-in-hand with the most frequently asked question is my most frequently given answer: “Sorry, but no, we don’t have anyone who’s particularly looking for a new position right now. But if you send someone to start training, we could help you form them into a good youth minister over the next three to four years.”
On Your Toes
- Written by: Sam Oldland
Youth Ministry on the Front Foot
Edited by Zachary Veron
Youthworks Press 2012
Put the ‘ministry’ back into youth ministry with Sam Oldland.
Whether you are a novice youth minister (the position I find myself in), a seasoned veteran or a member of a team, ‘Youth Ministry on the Front Foot’ provides a refreshingly practical and reader-friendly guide to the complex world and responsibilities of youth ministry.
’Youth Ministry on the Front Foot’ is written from (and for) the Australian context. Thirty-five chapters by thirteen contributing authors are collected under four broad themes: youth ministry, the youth leader, youth ministry principles and developing youth leaders. The bite-sized chapters cover a variety of topics including: developing youth leaders,
engaging with social media, managing issues of gender and sexuality and running a youth camp. Each chapter is accompanied by an application guide which poses questions to challenge readers. The structure helps readers to engage with each principle and not be overwhelmed by the book’s breadth.
It seems immensely popular in youth ministry today to espouse a foolproof strategy for exploding numbers and assured salvation while condemning competing models or strategies. ‘Youth Ministry on the Front Foot’ engages with programming elements of youth ministry (particularly in chapter 3 ‘Putting the horse before the cart’ and chapter 13 ‘How to make your youth group fun and fulfilling’) without campaigning for any specific model of ministry. Graham Stanton asserts that, ‘strategy must come second, but it must come second’ (page 37). Always in first place is the discipling of young people and the proclamation of the gospel.
‘Youth Ministry on the Front Foot’ puts the ‘ministry’ into youth ministry (chapter 1 is titled ‘It’s all about Jesus’). An array of instructions are presented for communicating Jesus and the Word to young people and empowering youth to be the primary ministers of the gospel in their context rather than volunteer or paid leaders. I found this one of the most encouraging and exciting themes of the book. Cameron Hyslop calls out the all-too-common approach of encouraging youth to invite their friends along to hear the gospel when we should be equipping the saints for works of ministry, to share the gospel themselves (chapter 16). Mike Everett urges leaders to encourage and unleash the passion and gifts that youth possess, refusing to buy into the cultural lie that teenagers have nothing to offer (chapter 10). Reading ‘Youth Ministry On The Front Foot’ has challenged me to reconsider how I view the youth I lead and how I will spur on my leadership team to equip and encourage teenagers as ministers of the gospel.
The authors are to be commended for their focus on Scripture. They repeatedly place the Bible at the centre of their teaching and implore youth leaders to teach faithfully. Perhaps lacking though is a chapter on other forms of worship for youth (such as singing praise as a community, acts of service beyond evangelism or the importance of praying together). The brevity of each chapter meant that I was often left wanting more, but there is always sufficient to prompt further thinking or reading. The application guide at the conclusion of each chapter makes the book a reflective tool for groups. I will be putting it to good use with my leadership team.
‘Youth Ministry on the Front Foot’ left me encouraged and strengthened. It serves as a concise and insightful reference for youth ministries of all shapes and sizes.
Sam Oldland is finishing his first undergraduate degree and is the rookie part-time youth minister at St Alfred’s Blackburn North.
Youth ministry resource review: Responding to nooma
- Written by: Graham Stanton
Some people are saying that nooma is "a revolutionary product that is changing the way people experience spirituality" 1. Others say it's a tool of Satan, subtly luring people from the truth. So what is nooma and how should we respond?
nooma is a series of DVD's produced by Rob Bell from the USA that are 15 minute discussion starters on a number of different topics. I've seen two of them – Rain (responding to hardship and suffering) and Flame (about love).
Flame is about the three different words for love in Hebrew that are used in Song of Songs – companionship, commitment and sex. Rob Bell describes these three loves as three flames and builds to his major point that the flames were meant to burn together, to create 'the big flame'. Sex was made to be enjoyed together with companionship and commitment. The finale sees Bell light the mother of all bonfires and the point is rammed home: don't miss out on the big flame.
These are pieces of absolutely engaging visual communication. They are well scripted, carefully directed and expertly produced. They're perhaps a vast improvement on many a youth group talk – planned on the run, built around the latest funny story, with a stray Bible verse conscripted into service.