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The most important question to ask regarding youth ministry is the question “why?” but are we avoiding asking it at our own peril?

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Her favorite question is “why?” No matter what is being discussed, she will always respond with the same inquiry. When she first started doing this, it was endearing; however, at this point, I’ll admit, it can be more than a little annoying.

And yet on another level, Sophie’s constant questioning is an important reminder about the necessity of repeatedly asking “why”.

By June, the youth programs of most congregations are coming to a close. There will be a few summer gatherings and perhaps a SERVE or mission trip, but for the most part, the summer months are a break from regular weekly programming. Perhaps you spend your summer months busy with VBS or other summer programs. Many of us take a week or two of our vacation during the summer. July is a time to reflect on the past season and to catch our breath before August rolls around and it is time to start planning for the new season.

By mid-August, many of us are knee-deep in preparations for the new church season—events to be planned, lessons to be prepped, leaders to be recruited, invitations to be sent, meetings to schedule and attend, and much time spent in prayer.

This is the basic pattern of youth ministry—a busy youth schedule from September to June, July as a “time-out” and August as ramping up for the new season.

However, often there is one very important thing that gets overlooked in our routines—setting aside time to discern and define a vision for youth ministry.

The most important question to ask regarding youth ministry is the question “why?”

- Why does our congregation have/need a youth ministry program?

- Why is youth ministry an integral part of our congregation’s identity?

- Why are we doing youth ministry the way we do youth ministry?

- Why is what we are doing working/not working to positively form the faith of our youth?

These are not one-time-only questions.  Rather, these are questions that need to be continually asked by everyone with a stake in the youth ministry – council, youth leaders, parents, and the youth themselves – in order to come together in unity of purpose that sets both the structure and direction of the youth ministry.

Failure to ask these “why” questions on a regular basis and maintaining them as standing agenda items in meetings will inevitably lead to languishing and stagnant youth ministries, a sense of being “stuck-in-a-rut”.

More importantly, failure to ask “why” will cause us to lose sight of the Holy Spirit’s activity and how it is calling us to participate in God’s mission in and through our youth groups.

Sure, a youth group might be really busy with some really great events, have lots of kids involved (both churched and unchurched0, and have a dedicated group of leaders.  However, if they cannot answer the “why” questions, then they are merely spinning the wheels with little purpose, continuing to do youth ministry simply because “we’ve always had a youth ministry and this is the way we’ve always done things”, and are, thus, completely out of sync with the Lord’s purposes of disciple-making.

How we answer  “why?”  will directly influence the shape of our youth ministries. The fruit our ministries bear will be relative to the type of seeds we plant; the type of seeds we plant depend largely on how we answer “why?”

Why ask why?

Proverbs 29:18 puts it well – “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV), or, if you prefer a more contemporary translation, “If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves (the Message).

What about you—how does your leadership team discern the vision for your youth ministry? Any suggestions or best practices?


JAson: Great way to begin a new Blog.....that is how I began! When I started at my present job (thankfully in the Summer months) my first task was to construct a Mission Statement, a Vision Statement, a Curriculum Overview and then everything and ideas that support it. By doing this I have a birdseye view of where I am going -  a road map, per se, of where I'm going with my approach throughout the year. Do I have detours - Sure, Do I have Road blocks - Absolutely, Do I need to plot a different course - Many times, but it allows me to (1) see my feet in front of me, (2) look down the road and not fall off the path (a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path) and (3) Evaluate it more clearly when I've arrived. At the end of each School year we sit down with our yth and evaluate what went well and what didn't. We correspond this with a Parent Survey to see what their parents see valuable/invaluable about the program. If you do this for 3-4 years then down the road you will have a program that you can use over and over again and just tweeking it a little each you use it to stay up with the times. Also, it creates a program for someone new who may step into the youth ministry position down the road. Always make sure that you are picking issues that are relevant to the times and to the kids; that's one of the biggest benefits of a year-end POw-Wow. MAking sure you're on Target!


Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this - very practical information!

My question is this - while "tweaking" programs is important, what happens when it comes time to complete overhaul?  How does a leadership team know when it is time to go "back to the drawing board"?  How do we discern the difference between "tweaking" and "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic"?  In other words, sometimes our congregational cultures can be prohbitive in terms of the "model/strucutre" of our youth programs - how do we know when it is time to challenge the perceived knowledge of "the way things have always been done" without throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Jason: Great is not usually so Black & White because there are so many factors that effect those changes; to stay ahead of the culture trends, over the last 30 yrs, I believe in the 7 year rule; that is it averages out to 7-10 yrs a new generation evolves with different, likes, goals, visions, technology etc. etc. etc. So making a goal of every 7 years keeps you ahead of the average trend. HOWEVER, if you are honestly "tweeking" your program/curriculum, when you get to that seventh year, not only will you very close to the next generation changes, but it won't look like the changes are that drastic. Also, you are not tweeking the moral foundations/fiber that your beliefs are built on, only the presentation that makes it understandable and easier to chew.The bigger question is "How do we keep youth Ministry worker/pastors to stay at any one given location for more than 3 years. That statistic is a true one, and if yth workers are not staying, they can't even come close to successful ministry in these terms. I'd even be thrilled if that statistic doubled. Also training them to create programs that can be passed along to the next one in line. So the answer to some of that is better training for both employed and volunteer yth minitry workers...

Every so often, I think it's a good idea to take a look at how you are doing your youth ministry.  We did that this year with the premise that our vision is good; however, are we doing ministry in way that is in line with our vision?  Then we approached it with the mindset that not only is this a new year, but how would we do this ministry if it was a brand new ministry.  After a good discussion and tossing out quite a few ideas (some wild) we ended up making some significant changes while keeping parts that were effective and will help the students feel continuity from last year. 

It was scary, as a leader, to ask my team these questions, but I'm glad I did as it not only gets us closer to our vision but also gives ownership to the rest of the volunteer team. 

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