By Will Hutcherson

Voices. There are a lot of voices in student ministry that tend to pull our focus in so many different directions. Voices outside of our church shout, “This is the next BIG THING in student ministry!” This can cause us to abandon our original vision in exchange for the envy of what some other ministry has. We buy into the idea that if we don’t do it that way, we won’t be successful. Other voices take form in the expectations of others or our own insecurities, and cause us to frantically work harder without getting much traction.

These voices cause us to work IN IT rather than work ON IT.

Working IN it looks like:

  • Frantic
  • Last minute planning
  • Being the only spiritual leader for students
  • Putting out fires
  • Doing it alone

Working ON it looks like:

  • Focus
  • Strategy
  • Planning ahead
  • Equipping others to lead
  • Defining clear wins
  • Delegating

How do we move from working in it to working on it?

I imagine student ministry leadership is a lot like flying an airplane. I know nothing about flying an airplane, but I’ve seen the inside of a cockpit and it seems overwhelming. There are countless switches and controls, but a good pilot knows which controls are most important.

The area many of us struggle with the most is not knowing which “dials,” or aspects, of student ministry are most deserving of our time, energy, and resources.

Below, I’ll list the five dials that I believe are most important to focus on:

1.     The Strategy Dial: Align leaders and parents to lead with the same end in mind. 

This is a crucial dial, yet it is often overlooked. From this dial, everything else follows. Working in it means we’re not working strategically. Simply surviving is not a strategy; survival does not equal success. Cranking this dial looks like being intentional, defining clear wins, and synchronizing teams. Without strategy, our volunteers will lose vision, and our student ministry will lose its effectiveness.

2.     The Experience Dial: Craft core truths into engaging, relevant, and memorable experiences.

This dial involves what students experience when they interact with your student ministry. When this dial is cranked, we focus on strategically planning teachings, creating relevant environments, and developing engaging presentations.

3.     The Parent Dial: Parents actively participate in the spiritual formation of their children.

Because we see the good, the bad, and the ugly of families, cranking this dial can be challenging. However, when we don’t engage families, parents miss their opportunity to be spiritual leaders, and the church forfeits its potential to have greater influence on students’ lives.

4.     The Groups Dial: Every student is connected to a caring leader and a consistent group of peers.

We can’t develop impactful relationships with every single student. This dial is about intentionally placing adults in the lives of students. One of the greatest gifts your church can give a parent is to give their child a consistent adult leader and network of friends that they can do life with.

5.     The Service Dial: Create consistent opportunities to experience personal ministry.

We must give students a way to live out their faith through serving. When we don’t, the church unintentionally fuels a self-centered and materialistic mindset in the hearts of students. When the service dial is cranked, students will know they are part of a bigger story.

Which of these dials would you say are currently cranked up in your ministry? Which dials need to be cranked up more? What are some practical steps you can take to begin to “crank up” the necessary dials in your student ministry?


Will Hutcherson is the NextGen Pastor at Next Level Church. Will is for all churches and all youth pastors. He has developed and implemented an innovative small group structure that creates an easy on-ramp for new students to get connected and continually looks for new and innovative ways to target the lost. Will is married to Arianne and they have two young children. You can reach Will via Twitter at @will_hutch or his personal

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