I love youth leaders. And, although I get to train thousands of them all across the nation every year, one of my favorite things is learning from them. Many youth leaders have great and effective strategies that they're implementing to create the most impacting youth group programs possible.
With this as a backdrop, here are 7 simple ideas youth leaders from across the nation have shared with me that will help improve your youth ministry program:
1) Make prayer numero uno.
In 2013, Dare 2 Share commissioned a national research project that helped us uncover the best practices of the best youth groups out there. This shouldn't have surprised us, but the number one characteristic of the youth groups that were the most effective was their commitment to prayer.
Youth leaders prayed. Students prayed. Adult volunteers prayed. There were extended times of prayer before the program and, in some cases, in the actual program.
The simplest way to deepen your impact in youth ministry is to deepen your commitment to prayer, both personally and programmatically.
2) Take time to prepare a lesson that rocks.
The most effective youth leaders I know are the most committed to preparing each lesson with the time and work it needs to be excellent. These youth leaders think ahead, labor over their teaching outlines, illustrations and exegesis to make sure they are presenting the best talk possible.
Far too many youth leaders go to a lesson-outline-churning website the afternoon before their program and frantically try to find something that will hit the mark.
But the best talks are thought over and prayed over long in advance. They have just the right blend of content, creativity and interactivity.
3) Build the best student leadership team possible.
I am shocked when I talk to youth leaders who don't have a student leadership team. Youth leaders worth their salt recruit high-will, raw-skill teenagers and will train them to be high-will, high-skill student leaders.
These are the types of teenagers who aren't just willing to set folding chairs up before youth group, but are willing to fill up the other teenagers they are seeking to reach and disciple!
By the way, if you want to fast track your training efforts with high-will teenagers, then take them to Lead THE Cause. It is a one-of-a-kind rapid intensification event for leadership development and disciple multiplication.
4) Equip your teens and adults to win, build, train...repeat.
This takes intentionality and focus. It takes actually putting training events on your ministry calendar that will equip them to do this effectively.
Many youth leaders I talk to include this kind of training as a part of their annual camps/retreats. They also do curriculum series (like Shine) throughout the year so that their teenagers and adults can navigate a gospel conversation from take off to touchdown in a simple, natural way.
5. Go to great websites to "steal" great ideas.
I think of Jonathan Mckee's The Source For Youth Ministry, Doug Fields' Download Youth Ministry and youthministry.com to name a few. There are so many great websites out there that can provide practical how to's, game ideas, lesson outlines, inspiring articles, etc. And these can help you take the guess work out of youth ministry so you can focus on being the best youth leader you can be and building the best program you can build.
6. Invest your life in the few.
This is something that we can't help but learn from the life of Jesus. He programmed for the many but invested in the few. Jesus' main focus was not the pizzazz of the miracles, but the intensive personal training of the disciples.
Another way to think of this is that Jesus "played favorites" in his ministry. Out of the crowd of thousands there were 72 that he invested in personally (Luke 10:1-11.) Out of the 72 there were 12 that were his inner circle (Mark 3:13-15.) Out of the 12 there were 3 that comprised his inner, inner circle (Matthew 17:1-3.) Out of the 3, he had one favorite (John 20:2.)
Jesus played favorites. He invested his life in those who were willing to go the furthest, farthest and deepest. If he did, then we should. Focus on pouring your life into those students and adults who will have the highest spiritual yield.
Love everyone. Minister to all. But pour your life into the few.
7. Create a story-telling culture.
Stories are fodder for revival. Every great spiritual awakening has been accompanied by great stories. And great stories breed even more stories.
When teenagers are sharing their faith, they also want to share their stories. When teenagers are growing deeper in Christ, they want to let others know.
Program storytelling time into your youth groups and small groups. Encourage teenagers to go do something that is story-worthy. Once this catches hold, it will create an unstoppable spiritual momentum in your youth group that will turn your ministry from theoretical to practical in an emotionally engaging way.
I think of Mr. Bill in Castle Rock, Colorado. He is a youth leader and one of our Dare 2 Share Certified Trainers. Every week he leaves time at the end of youth group for teenagers to come up and ring the bell (yes, a literal bell!) Then these teenagers tell the story of someone they've reached or are seeking to reach with the hope of Jesus Christ.
During this weekly storytelling time, many powerful stories have been shared, tears have been shed and prayer requests have gone out. The momentum in his youth ministry is palpable as a result. One of the biggest reasons is because he has taken time to build a story-telling culture and implemented a simple strategy (ringing the bell) to support it!
What are some other simple ways to vastly improve your youth ministry program?