I’ve been told by well-intentioned youth and parents, “I will be at UMY if there is nothing on my schedule.” Really? Is that supposed to make me feel better? You’ll be at UMY if you have absolutely nothing better to do? Thanks…I think.
We all experience it.
Every week thousands of members of youth groups choose to participate in activities outside of church. When we talk with these youth (and perhaps more importantly their parents), we quickly realize that there is a level of commitment and loyalty to these activities that we seem to be missing in the church.
Why is this so? And more importantly is there anyway to change it? What is it about these activities that illicit such a response?
Sports teams command immense loyalty from their players and families. Civic groups like Scouts may not have as many participants but the ones that are involved spend hours a week committing their lives to a cause. Even our military, which is composed completely of volunteers, convinces young people every year to endure grueling training, spend countless hours away from their families, and face the immediate threat of death for relatively small pay.
When I look at these areas I’m confronted with two key components that they all have in common:
(1) They all set clearly-defined high expectations and
(2) they all work toward a focused singular mission.
Sports teams have clearly-defined expectations of attendance, fitness, and competency while their focused singular mission is to attain the title of “champion” in their respective sport. Civic organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, have clearly-defined expectations of attendance, initiative, and service. The Boy Scouts also have a level of achievement called Eagle Scout. Eagle Scouts exhibit the highest levels of devotion, character, and integrity within the ranks of Boy Scouts. The military has clearly-defined expectations of commitment, fitness, and competency while their focused singular mission is to train soldiers for war. Based on their performance and leadership skills, soldiers can climb the ranks to command thousands of troops at a time.
No matter how you feel about these types of organizations (of which there are many), one thing is for certain: they command the attention and devotion of tens of thousands of young people every week.
What’s the church’s response to this? Should we just accept this and continue as usual? After all, is there really anyway a youth group can compete with any of these?
Might I suggest a few things. Would it be possible to begin setting high clearly-defined expectations for our young people? Would it be possible to adopt the rhetoric of mission, purpose, and goal-setting in our youth ministry context? I’m not in any way suggesting you set up a “Jesus-Scout” as your highest level of achievement but perhaps there are some nuggets of wisdom we can glean from these other activities.
Here are 3 ways to make your youth ministry become a priority for others:
1. Set high clearly-defined expectations for leadership and involvement.
For volunteers: Fight the urge to succomb to desperation. I get it. Sometimes we need volunteers…and we’ll take just about anyone with a pulse. Instead, strive to set higher expectations for your adult and youth leadership teams. You may not have people knocking down your door to help but the ones you do find will be more committed and focused than most others. Be sure to set time limits for service. It allows people to bow out gracefully after serving and also allows you to get rid of an adult that is ineffective.
For students: Expect your student leaders to be involved in the ministry and to be growing in their faith. Organizations outside of the church context (school, sports, scouts, etc.) expect students to be involved and to be developing. The church is in the unique position of offering high expectations to be met, complemented with a message of grace and acceptance.
2. Offer an excellent program that adds value to their life.
Try not to think of it as a competition. When you set up your expectations, try not to frame it as a competition between your program and another activity. Let’s face it…people are busy. The last thing they need is one more meeting to attend. Understand who you’re working with. Get to know their passions and prior commitments. Work with them to find a compromise to allow them to serve. This does not mean lowering expectations but it might mean altering the context in which the expectation is lived out. What could this look like in your ministry? How can you get students highly engaged in a manner that complements their lifestyle?
3. Be clear about why your ministry exists.
What makes your ministry unique? Emphasize why you’re different. What do you do that no other group in your area does? Strive to offer relevant programming that communicates a singular message. Reiterate that message every chance you get through word-of-mouth, branding, and publications.
Why do you think other organizations illicit such loyalty and dedication while the church often suffers?
How do you set goals for your youth and adult leadership?
What are some ways you can focus the vision of your ministry?