The State of Youth Ministry
Rev. Christal L. Bell
One of the most misunderstood, underfunded, and “after-thought” ministries of the Church is Youth Ministry. While there are some congregations that have shifted this paradigm to ensure that Youth Ministry is a priority, some still believe it is an option. Based on having more than 10 years in ordained ministry with more than five dedicated to youth ministry and mission work specifically, I can boldly say, “Youth Ministry is not an option, it’s essential to the growth and vitality of the Church.”
Recent research by the Barna Group in September 2016, reports that young people (specifically teens), are actually very involved in the life of the Church at large in the area of volunteerism and service. Youth are seeking and searching out ways that they can indeed change the world. There are many avenues in the AME Church and in our local congregations where we can walk with young people on their journey of faith. I offer these three suggestions for your consideration and contemplation.
Define youth ministry in your context.
Youth Ministry is not uniform. While we can glean and learn from the model of congregations with booming youth ministries, we must also look within and see the gifts that are already stirring inside of our own sacred spaces. In my youth ministry consulting work, it always amazes me when I ask for the congregation’s demographics as it relates to the age, schools represented, and activities offered in the community for youth. While inclusion in worship is vital, we have to offer more. We can’t just offer a one-time opportunity to serve; it must be an open invitation to be a daily part of the greater faith community.
In order to know what to offer, we have to be aware of the context and community in which we find ourselves. Gathering this type of data, whether through hiring a consultant or even putting out a simple survey via social media, can aid in defining the culture of a church’s youth ministry.
Discern the ways God is calling your local congregation/group to serve not only in the church but in the community as well.
One of the most successful ministry programs I was able to create was birthed from a void in the community. In order to figure out what the void was I had to reach out and explore the community, the school system, and the needs of the youth we were trying to reach in the congregation. God calls us to meet the need and heal the hurt.
The chief need is to take the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ out into the world. We are called to meet practical needs by putting our faith in action (James 2:14-16). There is an eternal expectation that we will exercise our faith in Jesus Christ through meeting some of the practical needs of our neighbors. What is the need in your community? What is God calling your congregation to do in kingdom building?
Dedicate time, energy, and resources to develop a strong foundation rooted in discipleship.
What makes the church (youth ministry) different than a nonprofit organization? The difference between the Church at-large and a nonprofit organization is that we are not just offering services, we are offering the Savior. We must keep discipleship at the forefront of our minds as we develop our ministries. One of my favorite seminary professors said, “We are called to pastor youth and not program them.”
Creating a thriving youth ministry is an on-going process to serve the present age. The process must be built on prayer, shaped by Scripture, and guided by the Holy Spirit. Youth ministry is a deliberate and intentional investment in the lives of young people on their spiritual journey. It is a sacred space that invites youth to not only “come as they are,” when needed, but to be invited everyday on their journey of faith.
Questions to consider:
- Has your Church prayed for a vision for youth ministry?
- What is the written vision of your local youth ministry?
- What resources does your congregation possess that will fulfill the vision? What resources do you need?
- Are you continually seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance throughout this process?
The Reverend Christal L. Bell, MDiv. is an ordained itinerant elder in the Chicago Annual Conference. She serves as the full-time Youth Pastor for a multi-campus and bi-lingual Methodist Church in the Chicago-land area. Her passion lies in the area of youth mission work. View official website at: www.christalbell.com.