By Ray Milsap, Student Pastor at Momentum Church in Gulf Breeze, FL
The squawks of seagull attacks while meeting under a beach pavilion.
The sound of blenders running in the tight spaces of a coffee shop.
The squeaking of trampolines overheard at the gymnastics center.
It’s safe to say our youth ministry has had quite a few unique and challenging environments to navigate over the years. But every environmental move we have made has been to create more room for more students to be loved and led closer to Jesus.
Honestly, that’s not always an easy mission, especially when it seems the environment you have been given has almost been designed to work against you. Doing youth ministry in challenging environments is hard, but it’s also possible. Whether you’re a portable youth ministry, are limited on resources, or blame your environment for not reaching students, my challenge to you is to rethink your view on your environment before you re-do your environment.
Here’s how we did that.
- Don’t grumble over the gift.
Your students and leaders will not appreciate the gift of an environment unless you do. In order for you to lead well, you must truly appreciate your environment. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the comparison trap of what you don’t have and completely miss what you do have. And what you do have is a space God has given to you to influence this generation for Jesus. It’s hard to invite someone to a place where even you don’t want to be. So lead your group away from negative talk about your environment and instead, speak words of gratitude for what the environment you have.
- Cultivate excellence, not excuses.
We can’t because…
We don’t have enough money.
We don’t have a strong production.
We don’t have enough support.
The list goes on and on. But your lack of resources isn’t a surprise to God. He is the one who gave you the gifts that He wants you to learn how to use. So instead of leading from a mindset of that says you need more to succeed, start by asking these two questions: What do we have and what can we do with it? With that mindset, you’ll be able to work towards maximizing the gifts, resources, and people God has already given you.
- Creativity trumps resources.
Having resources can help your environment, but lacking them should never hinder it. In fact, a lack of resources creates an ideal scenario that forces you to creatively think outside the box. It’s a great reason to get students together, maybe give them some Mountain Dew, and let them brainstorm some fresh ideas. Remember, your students have fun outside of your ministry without lights, projectors, and a huge production. Let them own it!
- “Consistency creates champions.”
Yes, that’s a Steven Furtick quote. And it’s true! Can we execute this consistently? is a question that should you should consider before adding anything to your environment. This doesn’t mean you can’t have unique elements or one-time creative themes! When you repeat something—and repeat it well—it will become what your leaders and students start to expect. A lack of consistency creates a gap in expectancy and experience. So make sure what you introduce into your environment is able to be repeated consistently.
- Create opportunities for ownership.
Students are willing, able, and hungry to be involved. They want ownership. Invite them in and equip them to be part of what God is doing in your youth ministry. Our youth ministry is a load-in/load-out environment, which means there are a ton of weekly tasks that must be done before our programming starts. Our students have been incredible in this area. Our production is fully run by students, which eventually led to half of our Sunday production team being student-led. With the exception of our music director, the music team is entirely student-led. Our set up and tear down is completely made up of students. When you walk into our environment, you are walking into an environment created for students by students. So start with who you have. What can they do? Equip them. Be patient and persistent. And watch something awesome happen over time.
Rethink your environment before you re-do your environment. You are where you are on purpose for a purpose. It’s a gift. Now maximize it!