Healthy youth ministry recognizes the capability of teens and how God can work through them as servant leaders. Youth leaders can set high expectations for young people, engaging them regularly in opportunities to give input, serve, and lead. In living out their vocation as adult members of a congregation, post-confirmation youth can feel a sense of ownership, build relationships, and positively impact their congregation and community.
1. Congregations identify gifts and skills in youth that can be used in service, leadership, and vocation inside and outside the church.
Teens are not a monolithic entity; God has uniquely created each one. Yet we often talk about them as a group, particularly when we are talking about service opportunities. Older adults reach out to the youth leaders and ask if “some youth” are available to help weed the flowerbeds. The Vacation Bible School director needs “a group of teens” to be small-group leaders. Not to mention the vast array of service that “the youth group” is asked to do. These are all important and valuable service opportunities in congregations. No doubt, it is important for these tasks to get done and for youth to be involved.
The difficulty comes in when congregations think of youth simply as warm bodies that need a task rather than people with particular gifts, skills, passions, and experiences. Before youth leaders can place young people in service roles, they have to know about them. What are they naturally good at? What skills have they been learning and mastering? What are they passionate about? What experiences do they have that might help? When youth leaders know these things, they can place them in a position to use those gifts, skills, and abilities effectively for the glory of God.
2. Congregations invest in youth by providing consistent opportunities for meaningful contributions.
Healthy youth ministry invests in a variety of ways for youth to make meaningful contributions to both youth ministry and their congregation. Meaningful contributions are opportunities to give input into important decisions and provide feedback on ministry experiences, goals, and direction. Perhaps you can think of “meaningful contributions” as a fancy term for listening well to youths’ opinions and perspectives, then taking them into account when making decisions in the congregation. God designed the Body of Christ to include members of all ages. Young people often have fresh takes, creative ideas, or different ways of seeing what God is doing in a congregation’s ministry.
All young people can give meaningful contributions if the youth leaders seek out opportunities to listen to them well. This can be as simple as doing a yearly survey of youth to help get a sense of what their needs are or allowing them to choose the next Bible study series from a list of choices. The more consistently you can get input and respond to it, the more likely teens will be to give you their honest opinions. There are going to be times when the contributions teens provide are outside of what is possible with your current resources. It can help in those moments to be honest about what limitations you see and ask them to continue to help you consider how to take their input while not running over budget or stretching leaders too thin.
3. Congregations engage and support youth in service inside the congregation, in the community, and beyond.
Youth ministry can sometimes be treated as synonymous with high energy game playing, late-night lock-ins, and too much pizza and energy drinks. While it might include those things, youth ministry is not just a set of self-serving activities and time to hang out with friends. As we trace back youth ministry to Walther League in the late 1800s, service has always been a key component of what youth ministry does, and that continues today. Serving the congregation and serving in the community engages teens and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, helps them practice living out their faith in new ways.
Service is when people use their skills and abilities to help the church or community. Young people today are more likely than previous generations to define who they are by their activities, work, academics, and hobbies. As a generation that is inclined to action, youth are watching the church. They want to see if Christians really live out what they say and if the love of Christ really overflows to neighbors. They value service as a way for God to use them to show mercy and point to the Gospel.
Blog post adapted from Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry, copyright © 2023 LCMS Office of National Mission—Youth Ministry, published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Get practical, researched advice for your youth ministry in Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry.