Do you want to start or grow a youth ministry at your church?
Here are a couple of simple rules.
Rule 1: If you want to have a youth ministry in your congregation, enlist qualified adults.
Rule 2: If you want to grow your youth ministry, enlist more qualified adults.
I often meet people at church who tell me that I have a gift with children, or youth, or teaching. While I am not going to dismiss encouragement, I sometimes feel like there is a lingering comparison hiding behind those words. It seems like some of these well-meaning people are convinced that they have no such gift or calling.
I would submit that they could be wrong.
Moreover, if you are older than 18 and don’t think you can help with youth, I’d be happy to convince you otherwise.
Many people think that to reach young people a person must be interesting, cool, or hip.
Instead, I’d submit that it’s more important to be interested. I say this based on my own experience as a youth and what I have seen over the last two decades. Sure, it is always fun to meet a person that is larger than life. It is exhilarating. It makes you feel special just to be near them, but on balance, I have found that people who forge relationships with young people have the greatest impact.
Enter Francis Johnson.
You might have missed her behind the three youth, one of whom is in the process of getting baptized. Francis is the lady in white at the center of the picture. While I won’t share her age, I will say that retirees make some of the best youth ministers and helpers. They have a bit more time than people still working and they have a trove of experience to share.
But that’s not Francis’ secret.
This how she reaches youth in her own words: “All I can do is love them. I can’t make them into what I want.” Also, for anyone who will listen, she will tell you that she “loves them where they are and for who they are—Love ‘em anyway.”
She is living the Great Commandment.
Furthermore, while parents and other mentors focus on molding young people into the people they think they should be, Francis has a different idea, “I don’t know who they are supposed to be; God knows that.”
I find this concept to be profound.
If you need some more ideas on how to reach youth here are some other ways to follow her example.
1. Introduce yourself and learn their names.
2. Have a ready smile and when you get to know them feel free to share hugs.
3. Pray for youth in your congregation by name.
4. Find out ways that you can assist.
Youth activities cannot happen without adults, and more youth requires more adults to keep things safe. Just as much as we need adults to engage directly with our youth, we need adults to be there as chaperones. However, if these ideas are intimidating, you can start with giving snacks, the intergenerational language of love.
Leah McGlynn, Youth Ministries Director, York River District UMC