Recently, I wrote about the importance of youth ministry staff serving as an un-anxious presence in their community. Upon further reflection on this theme, I think that one of the causes of anxiety in the system may be a tendency for churches to focus too much on perceived deficits in their youth ministry. We need more kids. We don’t have enough leaders. We are too small to provide more... We don’t have enough in the budget for… Feeling a sense of deficit often can be debilitating. When churches are feeling overwhelmed and under-resourced it might be time to return to the ABCD’s: Asset Based Church Development. I am borrowing the idea from a World Renew (at the time CRWRC) conference called the Power of With: Asset Based Community Development. Basically, communities that focus on their assets rather than deficits tend to better harness forward momentum that paves the way for more healthy, sustainable ministry growth.
The ABCD approach lives into the truth that God can and does do a lot with a little and that he is faithful in providing resources necessary for his church to be about his business. Church communities who use this approach ask questions like: How can having 7 youth be an asset to our ministry? How does being a smaller church help to create tighter Webs of Faith (see Marc Hoogstad’s blog of December 12, 2014)? How are the particular youth in our congregation assets in leading and designing a youth program for our specific community? What other programs in our church are going well right now and where we might be able to sync them with our youth program, creating some synergy? What are the assets that our church has that already support youth ministry?
One sometimes overlooked asset is the group of parents surrounding our youth. Our youth may have a love/ hate relationship with their parents as they do the healthy work of differentiating themselves and becoming their own persons, but youth leaders would do well not to neglect this gold mine of information and support. One great way to take advantage of this asset is to form a parent advisory group. An advisory group meets infrequently, 2-3 times in a ministry season, and is usually open to a quick email survey question about a singular event or question. As the keepers of calendar, car and community for their youth, a parent advisory group is great for signing off on the youth ministry calendar, helping decide the number of fundraisers they think the community can support and how many events parents are willing to shuttle kids to.
This group can be especially helpful to youth workers who have not yet parented teens. I remember one year when a youth pastor in my congregation decided to have a sleepover at church to celebrate the end of the semester. Unfortunately, it was just before exams so many students opted out. The intention was to give students a break before exams, but it actually added quite a bit of stress to many a family as parents found themselves unable to support the event. A quick check-in with an advisory (had there been one) would have saved a lot of disappointment and heartache on the part of the youth staff, students and parents.
A parent advisory group does not oversee the ministry, but is invited to speak into it. This group can help youth leaders better do ministry with youth and their families as opposed to ministry to or for them...or, as sometimes happens, in spite of them. This group can help youth leaders understand what current issues families are facing and where youth ministry and parents can be of mutual support to each other. A lot of energy and strength can be gained from working with each other.
I have highlighted only one overlooked asset. There are many more. For now, however, I would be interested in hearing from churches who have been able to re-define perceived deficits into assets as well as from youth ministries who have parent advisory groups and how that has worked for their ministries.