I’ve been asked to teach a 30 minute training on adding value to youth ministry. I’ve chosen to take the angle of adding value through volunteers. As I prepare this talk, I can’t help but deal with some sadness.

A ministry I was part of previously was, at one time, a thriving growing healthy ministry that had to turn potential volunteers away because they already had a waiting list of people wanting to serve. Today they have to scramble to fill leader spots for their summer camp and over a hundred students are on a waiting list each year for their small groups because there aren’t enough leaders.

What happened?

That’s why I’m sad. When I originally became a leader in that ministry, there were monthly leader meetings, people were memorizing the purpose statement, we were trained on the vision and how each leader played a part in making it happen. Leaders were rewarded for longevity. The leadership team was family. Our monthly meetings were like a celebration.

Fast forwarding through the years, I can point back to where we lost our vision:

  • Several changes in youth ministry staff
  • New staff wanting to implement their own vision
    • New vision isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s healthy and lasting
    • In our situation, the turnover in staff was too frequent and we never regained what we lost
  • Replacing a focus on adult leaders with trying to build up student leaders instead (you want both)
  • Not communicating or implementing the vision frequently

In relation to the talk I’ve been asked to give, I’ve seen in reverse what I need to teach. I’ve seen the effect of having a thriving ministry that adds a lot of value to the vision and volunteers, then the effect of taking it away. The structures are still in place, but the foundation to the structures is no longer there.

Having a small group program and a weekend program without the underlying vision creates situations where:

  • Students who want to grow spiritually are feeling lost in small groups that just play video games
  • Leaders who aren’t regularly exposed to a vision for youth ministry are free to decide what effectiveness looks like based on their own perceptions of what it should be (which has led to some very unhealthy situations)
  • Parents who chose to keep their kid home at the smallest excuse because they don’t see the value of what’s happening in the ministry

Here’s the solution if you find yourself in this boat:

  • Know why your ministry exists
  • Communicate it frequently to your leaders, pastor, parents and students
  • Organize your ministry on the foundation of the biblical vision
  • Raise up leaders who, from day 1, are infused with the vision as part of what they do
  • Reward two things in front of the leadership team:
    • Leaders who creatively implement the vision
    • Leaders who last (celebrate milestones of service)

A dying ministry can be turned around (possibly slowly) by following these steps. However, there’s one more thing you need to consider: Raise up the next generation of leaders who will follow this vision after you’re gone. As you raise them up, teach them how to raise up a generation of leaders who follow the vision after they’re gone.

Fortunately, that’s what I was able to do in the last small group I led within that ministry. I know that group will be fine and growing spiritually.