Web extra: Leaders discusses challenges, blessings of small-church youth ministry
The interviewees are:
• Wes Baldwin, Cheyenne Church of Christ in Wyoming.
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz.
• Shelly Kellis, Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine.
• Jonathon Scroggins, Bowie Church of Christ in Maryland.
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver, Wash.
1. Are you full time or part time? If part time, what do you do full time?
• Wes Baldwin, Cheyenne Church of Christ in Wyoming: “I was full time. Now I’m full time in the summer since I am in law school in another state (Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala.).”
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz.: “I do youth ministry as a volunteer. I suppose this means it is part time, as I am a full-time professor of mathematics at Pima College in my ‘real’ job. But to be honest, youth ministry is never really part time, as I still get text messages at midnight (or later), phone calls for help whenever needed; I reply to Facebook posts every day of the week, and I worry about the kids I work with 24/7. I am sure I put in more than 20 ‘hours’ of ministry time, and I know every other ‘part-time’ minister does as well.
“I received my undergraduate degrees from Pepperdine University and came to Arizona for graduate school. When I arrived I started volunteering to help with youth events. After several men in the congregation came and went, I began working more as the youth minister and less as the volunteer. I finished my Ph.D. in 2006 and started working as a math professor. However, my passion for bringing God’s word to teens and seeing it make a difference in their lives was ignited and so although I now have a ‘real’ job, I continue to minister to the teens. I see my work as a professor as an opportunity to help my teens (many of whom will be the first in their families to graduate from high school and/or attend college). My husband and I were married in 2001 (we met in graduate school), and we have a 2-year-old daughter who thinks she is part of the teen group!”
• Shelly Kellis, Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine: “I suppose my situation is different than others. I am a youth minister, but it’s not an official title bestowed on me by my congregation. God has brought this about by needs in my own congregation as well as others and coupled that with my passion for the youth, for unity, and for an ever increasing desire throughout New England for God to be glorified.”
• Jonathon Scroggins, Bowie Church of Christ in Maryland: “I am the full-time youth minister for Bowie Church of Christ in Bowie, Md. I have a bachelor’s degree in education. I have been married for five years to my lovely wife Ashley. I have been the youth minister for three years, starting as part time and converting to full time a year ago.”
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver Wash.: “I am the only full-time minister on staff. I grew up the son of a preacher but never planned on becoming one. I majored in business communication at York College, and after spending two years doing mission work in China, I returned to the States to pursue full-time ministry. I worked first with Dr. Chris Bullard at the Northland Mission Church of Christ in Kansas City, serving as the associate minister and working primarily with the youth. I took a brief hiatus from ministry following a three-and-a-half-year run, then I accepted my current position in Vancouver, Wash., where I do the multitasking that’s common for ministers of small churches. I preach and teach the teen class, among other responsibilities.”
2. Please tell me about your role in working with the youth at your congregation. What ages or grades do you serve, and how many children are involved?
• Wes Baldwin, Cheyenne Church of Christ in Wyoming: “During the summer I have been in charge of everything dealing with the seventh- through 12th-graders. I teach Wednesday night and Sunday morning classes, and every Sunday night we have our own small groups. I am in charge of coordinating where we meet, what we eat, what the activity is, who does the devo (more often than not it’s me), and I have to provide a lot of the transportation.
“I have coordinated all of our trips to youth rallies and church camps (if I wasn’t taking them, no one was). I put our entire youth rally together. I also have had the role of preaching once or twice a month.
“The year I worked here full time, I held weekly events during the school year for the kids, everything from team-building activities and devos to Bible studies and visitation. I started individual mentoring with several of the boys, showing them the different aspects of working for a church, taking them to dinner, taking them to the hospital to visit people from church, etc., forming a close relationship with them.
“One of my most creative tools when I first started was what I called my ‘ping pong ministry’.” I had one boy in particular who most people said I could never reach that I started playing ping pong with four or five times a week at the church for several hours at a time. We became very close, and after a while he started bringing his football buddies–it was a great way for me to meet kids outside our youth group (some of them started attending after they began getting close to me). That boy in particular has become one of the strongest leaders in the youth group and goes to absolutely everything–he is a real encouragement, especially to the younger kids.
About 15 to 20 are involved now, compared to four to six when I first started.”
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson Ariz.: “I work primarily with sixth- to 12th-graders. We currently have five to eight regulars for Sunday morning class and 12 to 15 for activities and devos. My role is to teach their classes, organize their fellowship activities and devos, plan the youth rally we host, help with the areawide fall retreat, plan and direct summer camp, coach Bible Bowl (the years we have a team), go to their school functions and generally serve as a liaison between the teens and the congregation. I have also worked with parents and families in a variety of ministry and counseling situations.”
• Shelly Kellis, Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine: “I have been actively involved in working with youth for about 15 years. These past 10 years I have been coordinating teens from throughout New England to get to areawide activities such as youth rallies.
“I’ve also been instrumental in coordinating our youth to attend Winterfest in Gatlinburg, Tenn., as well as in sponsoring lock-ins. Our congregations are so small and so spread apart here that gathering together to worship God and encouraging one another is really a lifeline for so many. Often teens will travel for a few hours just to see one another for a weekend. It’s part of the culture here. You nurture your faith in community, and that happens together.
“I’ve been active in the church for 20 years. I have worked in women’s, children’s and youth ministry. I have spoken at an areawide event to discuss healthy congregational growth and relationships as well as taught at a women’s retreat at Gander Brook Christian Camp. At Gander Brook I have been active in volunteering as well as in teaching the youth throughout New England. I was part of a mission trip to Mexico with about 40 teens from New England. Currently I have been working to get teens to Winterfest in Gatlinburg, Tenn., every year. I also began a website ministry to help foster communication and growth throughout New England. These websites are resources to learn about current and upcoming events as well as to remind us of the unique community of faith we have in New England for teens.
“I have worked with junior high and high school students, in small groups of five or six and also up to 31 teens last year who attended Winterfest.”
• Jonathon Scroggins, Bowie Church of Christ in Maryland: “I am responsible for organizing and leading activities for the middle school- and high school-age students (grades 6-12), which is around 30 to 40 students in the congregation.”
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver Wash.: “I do my best to be involved at all age levels, as I want the youth in our church to be comfortable around me and view me as their minister as well. I’m active in our children’s ministry, leading singing for the kids’ worship, voicing puppets, and occasionally fill in as a teacher. This group ranges from four years to fifth grade and has 15 to 20 children involved.
“I also teach the teen class on a regular basis as well as attend teen events. Our group is small–if we have six students on a Sunday morning we’re doing well. Due to the small size of our church, our youth group ranges from sixth grade to 22 years old. My previous group in Kansas City had between 10 and 30 students.”
3. What inspires you to work with the youth?
• Wes Baldwin, Cheyenne Church of Christ in Wyoming: “My inspiration for working with youth comes from several things. One is that a lot of older kids invested time in me when I was younger, and it meant the world to me. I loved going to camps and youth rallies because of the relationships I had with the older kids and the young adults that worked with youth.
“They encouraged me and supported me in ways that have truly helped define who I am today. I want to pay if forward to kids today and encourage and support them in the ways that I was. I want these kids to know they are not alone, that they were created for a reason, and that they have a purpose.
“My specific inspiration for working with kids in Wyoming is because of my experience of living in Wyoming from the age of 5 to 14. I felt the lack of attention put on the youth in that state, especially after moving to Ulysses, Kan., in eighth grade where 20 of the 84 kids in my high school graduating class were a part of my youth group. I got to see what it was like to be part of a close youth group with a youth minister and to watch most of the kids’ parents be very involved.
“We participated in programs like LTC, and they took us all around the southwestern part of Kansas, panhandle of Oklahoma and northwestern part of Texas to youth rallies, monthly area-wide events, etc. I wanted to introduce kids in Wyoming to those kind of experiences that I knew they weren’t getting. I wanted them to feel connected to their church family and to gain some excitement about what Christ had done for them.”
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz.: “I want to make a difference in this world. Too often I see members of congregations who have been a part of the church forever. But teens are different. The kids I minister to come from homes I cannot imagine. They face challenges far beyond my wildest imagination, and yet I can see the way God is working in their lives. Sometimes I even get to see amazing transformations. It is the possibility of one more life transformed which keeps me working.”
• Shelly Kellis, Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine: “I am inspired to work with youth by seeing their faith in action. They are passionate and sacrificial. I see great desires within them to make a difference in their community. It’s more than belief in Christ, it’s trying to be like Him. Many teens have gone to great lengths to foster relationships and have taught me many things about community within the church.”
• Jonathon Scroggins, Bowie Church of Christ in Maryland: “I have always had a desire to work with youth. I want to be able to show them that a relationship with Christ can be one of the most challenging yet most rewarding things you can have. I desire to share with them the experiences I have had and help them mature into young men and women for Christ. To see the joy on their faces when they come to know Christ, to help them heal when pain comes their way, and to be a help in time of suffering are what I feel I am called to do.”
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver, Wash.: “I enjoy the freshness that comes in working with this group — they’re still learning, aren’t set in their ways, and yet they are old enough to have intelligent discussions and ask probing questions. I grew up in small churches myself, oftentimes only having 1 or 2 others in the ‘youth group,’ and I know how encouraging it was to have something that was done just for us. As a youth, I didn’t always feel comfortable in the adult class, and I want to offer that same environment to teens today — a place to learn and ask questions where I won’t feel judged. There’s also a statistical element to my inspiration: only something like 20 percent of teens continue in their faith through college. If I can in any way help a young person develop a faith that will stick with them for a lifetime, I want to do that. The majority of people make their decision to follow Christ in their teen years, so it’s crucial to reach kids at this age — it may very well be our last chance.”
4. What are the biggest challenges and blessings in working with young people, particularly at a smaller congregation?
• Wes Baldwin, Cheyenne Church of Christ in Wyoming: “One of the biggest challenges at first was convincing older people the importance of it. A lot had never been in a church with a youth minister or even where there was a somewhat active youth group, so they didn’t see the importance of it. They didn’t understand why we met all the time and why I made such a big deal out of pushing the older people of the congregation to encourage the younger ones and to try to have a relationship with them. Another huge challenge was the parents. Since almost all of these parents had never experienced their kids being active at church, they had other activities where their time was invested; at first they had a hard time making the youth group a priority in their lives. I had kids really wanting to come to things but their parents were pushing school events and sporting events ahead of church activities.
“Another challenge in a smaller congregation can be people focusing sometimes too much on the quantity of people showing up and not focusing on the quality of what is actually happening. The blessing is that when people finally started realizing it wasn’t about numbers, the small group that was coming to everything started to really connect and unite. These kids became like family to me, and I got to see them grow so much not just spiritually, but also as overall human beings. They not only became more active in the youth group as these relationships grew, but they also became more connected to the church family as a whole. Getting to see that and be a part of that is a huge blessing. To see and know you are changing a kid’s outlook on life is pretty special.”
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz.: “Wow – where do I start? I have a unique congregation. We are predominately made up of retired folks and college students. However, we have a few families who attend with their teens. But many years ago the church had a free meal for kids in the neighborhood and as part of that we began working with teens whose parents do not attend our congregation. This has continued. So the biggest challenges I face are bridging the two worlds I minister in. Sometimes our members do not understand why one of my teens might think it is all right to serve communion in a white t-shirt. I have to remind them that this teen came with the nicest/cleanest shirt he owns to serve at the Lord’s table, and although it might look different from what we expect, it is not to be chided or scolded. Likewise from the other side I have to help my teens, their parents, and families understand what it means to be a Christian and how that should transform one’s life. Parents often do not understand the value of the “weird” things we do at church, so they think a great punishment for misbehavior is to forbid church attendance. It is difficult to explain to them that their kids will benefit from our lessons and it might be better to restrict something else as punishment. In this same way I have had the blessing of explaining the meaning and traditions of baptism to parents as their teens have decided to change their lives. I see some of these parents years later recognizing the value of all those lessons.
“One of the blessings of a small congregation is that I can spend time with just a few kids and really build relationships with them. I can go to their marching band performances, choir concerts, football games, school plays, etc. Because the elderly in our congregation see the teens often, I am able to encourage them to also support our kids by coming to graduations and other events.”
• Shelly Kellis, Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine: “One of the biggest challenges of working with young people at a smaller congregation is the fact that there are just so few youth. In fact, at my home congregation we are down to one teenager. It’s very difficult to get teens excited about gathering together with the local body when the life-changing experiences (others move off to college or graduate leave) put them in places which can cause them to question their faith. Certainly one’s faith isn’t about what we do, but rather who we are, yet often that is defined in the context of community. With such small numbers in so many congregations across a state or area, it’s a challenge to cultivate hope. Yet this is where I find such blessings as well, for it’s an authentic faith that is deep and grounded that causes them to desire connection with one another. It takes commitment to sacrifice your weekend for a youth rally.”
• Jonathon Scroggins, Bowie Church of Christ in Maryland: “I think some of the challenges are showing them that there is a world outside their own little box. Managing life, job, and my own spirituality can be difficult; I have to make sure I set aside time for my own spiritual walk and my family’s as well. One of the biggest blessings is the ability to focus on the relational aspect of the ministry. I can focus on individuals because there are fewer in the group.”
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver, Wash.: “PROS: You get to know your kids really well and develop strong bonds with them. Kids get to have more one-on-one time with you than they would in a larger group. Transportation is easy. The kids get really close to each other and can form a very solid group. It takes on more of a family feel. It’s also easier to get buy-in from the whole group when you’re doing something, because you really do notice when someone isn’t there. You don’t need a lot of chaperones because there aren’t a lot of kids. The church really loves the kids it has, and teens are more integrated into the church body because there aren’t a lot of them. Often times I’ve seen in larger churches where the teens are kind of exiled to their own part of the building–a church within a church. In smaller churches this doesn’t happen. It’s easier to get excited about growth, because you really notice when someone new shows up.
“CONS: It becomes easy to blur the line between ‘youth minister’ and ‘friend,’ not only undermining your ability to effectively minister to them, but making the students feel a bit too comfortable with you. It can be difficult to plan class or events when you aren’t sure how many will show up. It’s also very difficult to use any pre-packaged material because most of it is designed for larger groups; when it says things like “divide your teens into groups of six,” you realize you only have one group. It’s hard to play those games with only one team! If the youth minister doesn’t have a good relationship with the kids, it can make those one-on-one or two-on-one Sunday morning classes uncomfortable. It can also be difficult for new members to integrate into the group. The kids become so close that they subconsciously exclude new kids–unless they’re very gregarious. It can become somewhat clique-ish. I had difficulties getting others from the church involved in part because it seemed like, with so few kids, I didn’t need the help (both their perception and mine). You can often feel that, if you have a certain number of kids who can’t make it, you need to cancel the event. Eventually, I decided to follow through on every event, regardless of how many were coming. You also become very aware of the economic status of each family, and that plays a huge factor. It’s one thing to exclude kids because they’ve got sports practice, but to exclude them because they can’t afford it? That’s easier to get by with in a large group but hard to justify in a small group.
“Additionally: A huge blessing of working with youth is the way you’re able to make an impact that can last a lifetime. Even now, kids I counseled at summer camp years ago will contact me and tell me what I a blessing I was to them and how I strengthened their faith. To see God using you like that is both awe-inspiring and incredibly humbling. Another blessing is the ability to tailor your teaching to the specific needs of your teens—with a big group you may not know what all your kids are going through and what they need. When you’re working with a small group, you’re very aware of those factors. A challenge and blessing is their passion—there’s a reason so many of the great church movements over the years started with teenagers. On the upside, the passion with whichh they approach their faith is refreshing—in their worship, in the way they want to live out their faith and take action. The flip side of that is the drama–how every little thing becomes so much bigger than it needs to be; it seems like the end of the world is always right around the corner. This blessing/challenge is magnified in a small church because you’re so much closer to the students.”
5. Are there regular or annual events (summer youth series, Bible camps, etc.) that help connect your young people to other Christian teens in your region? Please tell me a bit about these events or programs.
• Wes Baldwin, Cheyenne Church of Christ in Wyoming: “I started taking my kids to a lot of established events in Kansas to show them what healthy, stronger youth groups were like. We went to the Garden City Youth Rally, the Kansas Youth Festival (a huge statewide youth rally in Salina, KS), and Silver Maple Camp in Kansas. We also go to the North Platte Youth Rally in North Platte, Neb., the Lander Youth Rally in Lander, Wyo., the Casper Youth Rally in Casper, Wyo., and we have our youth rally in Cheyenne. We also went to some events in Colorado. They have area-wides every few months that we participated in. Some of our kids also go to Wyoming Bible Camp in Lander, Wyo. The youth rallies are usually from Friday to Sunday and there can be anywhere from 100 to 250 kids, depending on the rally. There are usually several speakers, lots of singing and several activities, anywhere from going to a gym and playing basketball to a service project, bonfires, ice skating, fun blow-up toys like at carnivals, etc.
“The camps last a week and consist of a theme, several classes, activities, hikes, and breakout groups. At Wyoming Bible Camp we are isolated up on a mountain and are able to spend a lot of time in God’s beautiful nature.”
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson Ariz.: “We have several annual events that we attend or host to get teens together. I work regularly with four other congregations in southern Arizona, and I am always trying to network with more.
“We have a youth rally in Las Cruces, N.M., every January. My teens love going. It is a short road trip, but time in the car is always a bonding moment for them. This is a great way to jumpstart our ministry after the holidays.
“We host a youth rally in March, which is great for the teens to have to come together and plan something themselves (with my guidance of course). Although I do the majority of the planning, I like to involve my teens in helping pick the theme, design the t-shirt, plan the food and lead the games. This teaches them to plan events as well as to understand the amount of work which goes into an event. The teens are engaged in the planning process, so they take ownership of the event. In years when I only have one or two teens, we still work hard to put on a great youth rally and reach out to those other small-town congregations (you know the ones, where the Sunday morning “kids” class consists of the one 8th grader teaching the 2- and 7-year-old something from the Bible).
“We all attend summer camp together with several other congregations in June, and in October we have a fall retreat with these same kids. I could not plan camp on my own; I don’t have the time or resources. I have been very blessed to work with some ministers here in town who share the load. We plan camp together, and our kids have benefited from the increased cooperation between our congregations. We talk regularly to our teens about the prayer of John 17 that Jesus prayed for unity among Christians. We try really hard to model that for them at camp (week-long) and fall retreat (the weekend of fall break).”
• Shelly Kellis, Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine: “The regular events in New England are youth rallies. We have five youth rallies annually at the following churches: Edgewood in Mansfield, Mass., Manchester/Wallingford in Manchester/Wallingford, Conn., Conway in Conway, N.H., Natick in Natick, Mass., and Manchester in Manchester, N.H. These rallies provide an opportunity for the youth to gather together to connect and foster relationships. Often we have guest speakers come in for the weekend, yet we have had teens also get up to speak and share as well. These are wonderful opportunities to be encouraged, worship, and truly carry each other’s burdens. Another major factor in the growth of the faith of our youth is the summer camps of New England. We have three: Gander Brook in Maine, Timothy Hill in Massachusetts, and Camp Hunt in New York. These are all places which work hard to connect teens with one another and to our God.”
• Jonathon Scroggins, Bowie Church of Christ in Maryland: “There are not many events in our ‘region’ that allow for the youth to connect. They have summer camp, but other than that it is unfortunately very limited.”
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver, Wash.: “The Pacific Northwest is blessed with a great summer camp—Camp Yamhill. They also host an end-of-the-summer spectacular called FaithQuest that routinely draws well over 500 students. During the summer, churches in the greater Portland metro area host a Tuesday night event called TNT that has been going on for so long (close to 30 years) that the actual meaning of the acronym has been forgotten! Every Tuesday night during the summer, a different church invites all the teens in the area for an evening of worship and the presentation of a message. Sometimes there are skits, videos, discussions—it varies greatly from one location to the next, but it’s always a big production at each church. They’re well attended (between 150 to 300 students, depending on the week), and the students really look forward to them (some congregations drive over two hours to participate!) Area churches also host Bible Bowl competitions, lock-ins, and other various events throughout the year.”
6. What advice or ideas would you offer for smaller congregations, particularly those outside the Bible Belt, looking for ways to engage young people and help them develop their faith?
• Wes Baldwin, Cheyenne Church of Christ in Wyoming: “The biggest thing you have to do is develop a relationship with them. Have fun activities to get them to hang out with the other kids from church. The more fun the activities, the more my kids invited their friends. Once the kids start hanging out, they really begin to form close relationships, and you see your discussion in class getting deeper and more heartfelt. The kids start opening up more, and you see an accountability on their part about coming to activities and coming to class. Offer the kids lots of attention and encouragement. Go to their sporting and school events, take them out to eat, start something like my “ping pong ministry”, etc. Take them on trips, to camps and youth rallies–let them see how big youth groups work; talk with their leaders to find out how they got their group to grow. Let your kids hear the kids from the bigger youth groups talk to them about what it’s like to be part of a close, tightly knit youth group. It has a huge impact on them.
“The youth need to know they are supported by the entire congregation. The leadership (elders, ministers, deacons, etc.) need to invest in them and let them know how much they care about them.”
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz.: “I think it is vitally important to work with others. I have several youth ministers both in town and who have since moved who I depend on. We work together to plan big events so as to share the load, and we support one another and help minister to one another when we are facing struggles with our youth. We serve as an accountability group and also as a sounding board.
“Sometimes in a small church you wear so many hats that it’s difficult to get fed because you are trying to help find teachers, get curriculum, work with the “Children’s Bible Hour,” handle weekly devos or trips to bowling or miniature golf, and then someone says, we need __, or why don’t your teens do this service project because the church needs __. Learn when and how to say ‘no,’ and then do so when appropriate. Even in the smallest of churches the work should be shared. Just because your teen group is only three kids does not mean you should take on more than a shared load. You have to be able to sustain this pace, so be sure to find ways to be fed.
“Youth ministry at its best is time-consuming and messy. Teens are on the most exciting part of the roller coaster of life. They are up and down so fast that it is difficult to keep track, but when you take the time to build relationships with them, it is a fun ride. It takes time to walk alongside a teen and build up trust with them, but the fruit from these relationships is the purpose of all I do.
“Recognize that the best place to reach teens is where they are at. Get out of the building or office and get in their schools. Go have lunch with them once a week (or whatever is feasible given your situation). It is amazing to kids that some adult would care enough about them to take the time out to show up at school. This way you also meet their friends and get to know their ‘crowd.’
“Never write off a kid – we don’t have enough to lose one, so do your best to plant seeds even if the soil looks bleak. I had a teen who was Wiccan; she began coming with one of her friends but was quite difficult to deal with. She was often negative and sometimes downright rude to members of the church who were trying to help. Out of desperation one night as I drove her home I asked, “Why do you bother to come?” I was met with the most important lesson I have learned in ministry. She said, “Because you guys are the only people nice to me.” Several years later, this teen was baptized and is now in her second year at OC. She is a great kid and is becoming an amazing Christian woman (she still has a few rough spots), but her life has been an amazing transformation. And to think: I almost wrote her off, because she was so difficult and negative, and I didn’t think I should ‘waste’ my time on her.
“The greatest thing about a small-church ministry is the opportunity to build solid relationships. Even if you only have one or two teens who come to an event, this is the time to get to know those one or two teens really well; then you can better model Christ for them. Don’t cancel an event just because it might be small. First of all, it makes it less likely for teens to commit to something (after all it might get canceled). But more importantly, it sends a message to the two or three that they are not important enough to hold the event. I can attest that I have had devos with just one kid – we had a great time. This is what ministry is about.”
• Shelly Kellis, Greater Portland Church of Christ in Maine: “I would encourage any other congregation, large or small, to listen to their youth. They truly are the future of the church, and in listening to them we are providing an opportunity to encourage growth in the body. Just like when we were younger and thought our ideas relevant and important, who are we to decide what is important or not for them? I would also say to anyone: use what you already have in place to the fullest extent–get involved in teaching, in youth rallies, at camp, in whatever ways you can be involved–do it, and be there. Most of all, seek God’s wisdom on what your area needs, and find ways to have the youth serve. So often, doing service projects and serving each other builds foundations for other opportunities that strengthen their community of faith.”
• Jonathon Scroggins, Bowie Church of Christ in Maryland: “I think the best idea I can give is to make sure that the students know you are invested in them. Make an effort to build a relationship with them and be an example of what a relationship with Christ looks like. Never stop praying for your ministry, and make sure that God is always at the center of the ministry. It is His ministry, not yours. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the ‘traditional event’ box. Be willing to design events that cater directly to your audience.”
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver, Wash.: “Stay true to the Word. It may be tempting to water things down to grab a bigger audience, but in the end that is defeating. If we teach our kids only to be interested when it’s flashy and exciting, we’ll condition them not to ever look any deeper than the surface. That will eventually be fatal to their faith.
“Play to your strengths—don’t try to be something that you’re not. Rather than trying to imitate what other successful groups are doing, figure out what gifts and talents your leaders and students bring to the table, and create a ministry plan that maximizes those abilities.
“Be genuine—kids pick up on fakers really quickly. If you’re honest and open with students, they will respond to that. The relationship is king with this generation, and if you can build a solid connection with your students, you’ll be able to teach them much more.
“Meet them where they are. Even though you may not be able to build a big program that will attract large numbers of students, you can have a huge impact by joining your students in their daily lives. Go to the skate park or the mall; meet them on their turf, and get to know their friends. As you walk alongside them, you’ll find great opportunities to teach them along the way. Jesus’ favorite classroom for his apostles was along the dusty roads of Judea; yours can be Starbucks!
“Get outside the box. Just because something has always worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work today. Don’t be afraid of doing something different. Ask your students for new ideas; pray for creativity. Look at the culture your students are living in and find ways to show them how God is alive and active in their world. Redeem their culture for godly purposes.
“Stop counting. The best thing you can do for your ministry is not to think about the numbers. Even if you only have one or two kids show up for an event, do it anyway. It will show those two who showed up that they matter as individuals and that you care for them, not the idea of having great attendance.
“Build a team. You can probably get by with running a small youth group without any help, but you shouldn’t. Approach individuals in the church, and ask them to start attending youth functions. They don’t have to do anything at first except be there and talk to the kids. As they get comfortable, ask them to pick a student to mentor. This will build cross-generational relationships in the church, causing students to feel connected to the larger church and helping adults get over their fear of teenagers (most adults are terrified of teens—even if they won’t admit it!) This will also keep you from getting burned out.
“Don’t isolate—integrate. One of the greatest failures of youth ministry has been the way we create a church within a church by isolating the teens into their own events. Get your students involved in worship and involved in church-wide activities. Invite the church to participate in teen activities. We’ve got to be planning from the moment a kid enters the youth group for their transition out of the youth group and into the larger church as a whole.
“Plug the parents in. You’re not the primary teacher—they should be. Do your best to help them take that role, and work with them.”
7. Any other comments?
• Jessica Knapp, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz.: “It is important to not focus on the numbers game and how big or small your group is, but instead to embrace the benefits of a small-church ministry and to focus on really changing the lives you can touch.”
• Fletcher Hammond, Hazel Dell Church of Christ in Vancouver, Wash.: “Take joy in what God has asked you to do. You have a rare and special opportunity to be deeply involved in the spiritual development of young souls. Our responsibility is not to make the seeds grow but to be faithful to the calling God has given us. So love your students with all that you have, and be faithful to your mission. If you focus on that, you cannot fail.”