Whether you are a paid staff or volunteering, there is a lot of pressure when leading a youth ministry. Some of these pressures include planning a weekly curriculum, worrying about the youth relating to the material, or finding connection points with the youth we are ministering to.
But is there a simpler way? What if instead of youth ministry being a weekly program, it was something bigger but simpler?
Our church did away with the weekly youth program a year before I was hired. Thanks to a pair of wonderful volunteers—my predecessors—a mentorship model for our church’s youth ministry was implemented. We haven’t had a weekly program in over ten years, but have shifted the primary focus of our ministry to spending time with our youth in the day to day.
The ministry is broken down like this: each grade and gender forms a small group (with some grades being combined due to their size). Each small group has its own pair of mentors—the majority of these mentors being young adults, not too far removed from high school themselves. Among our youth, we have six small groups, all with two mentors and between five and eight youth. These groups stick together for five years, from grade 8 to high school graduation. My role, then, is to mentor the mentors.
The primary focus of the mentors, however, is to live life with these youth. That means they attend sports events and school plays, take them out to lunch and coffee, have pizza parties at home, or watch a movie together at the theater. Beyond that, though, they take youth when they get groceries or walk the dog. They’ll even do homework together at the local coffee shop. They also serve together—making meals for members of the church, baking cookies for the local retirement home, or helping with one of the local non-profits. All of this is done according to the leader’s schedule, fitting in whichever of his/her youth possible.
Every month, the leaders and I still meet. We get together and talk about how we are all doing in our own walks with God (it’s hard to mentor youth in the ways of the Lord if we aren’t regularly held accountable). We also still plan about two or three monthly events which range from Bible Studies to Capture the Flag.
But these events come secondary. They serve a purpose (spending time together builds relationships) but the focal point of our ministry is including these youth regularly in our day-to-day lives. There is still intentionality—this type of ministry cannot be done without consistent discipline—but to have the weight of a weekly, curriculum based, youth night removed allows our leaders to be more intentional in their relationships and more willing to include these youth into their lives. It also focuses more attention on what, I believe, youth crave most: time with someone older than them, who reflect in their everyday routine what it means to walk with God.