As Orange Specialists, Charlie, Brett and I have had the privilege of connecting with Youth Leaders all over the world—literally. One of the cool parts about that is noticing the trends in youth ministries based on size, location, region and even race. Now, we’re not gathering data and crunching numbers or anything. However, we do have an ongoing conversation with each other comparing what we’re hearing. These conversations reveal trends in youth ministry and give us a chance to process what we’re learning from ministry leaders.
Over the past few months, a common trend we’ve all noticed is that despite size and region, many youth ministries are asking — how do we re-establish or restructure youth ministry?
Full disclosure, that question always leaves us a bit stumped. Ministry just looks so different these days. The way forward for each youth ministry is muddled in the weight of all that this past year and a half has brought for families, students, adult volunteers, youth leaders and even your particular church. Ministry has never been simple. But now, it’s even more complex than it was before. Yet, this great complexity gives us an opportunity to evolve the ministries we lead.
So, we thought it would be fun to offer a little peek into what we’re learning from ministry leaders as we all do the work of evolving. Here you go. Here’s our list of 7 trends in youth ministry we’re learning from ministry leaders (BTW, these are in no particular order).
7 Trends Orange Specialists are Learning from Ministry Leaders
1. Relationships are king…or queen. (Candice)
Okay, this is totally nothing new. We all know that relationships are essential and that they’re the model of discipleship Jesus demonstrated for us. But through listening to leaders lately, Jesus’ model of relational discipleship once again proves to be the most impactful. Here’s the thing about relationships. A genuine relationship typically isn’t confined to a specific day, time and event. When we are in true relationship with someone, that relationship goes beyond scheduled programs and events and you just sort of do life together.
In circumstances where relationships are contingent upon a specific day, time or event . . . rarely do those relationships continue to thrive if those programs and events no longer exist. That’s why true and genuine relationship is so essential. Not just to remain in relationship through a pandemic, but also for the student who is graduating high school and heading to college. That student will likely have a stronger faith foundation all because of the relationships around them.
2. Good systems make youth ministry more effective, efficient, and agile. (Brett)
Some things are too important to leave to chance. Sadly, that’s how many (yours truly included) tend to handle too many aspects of ministry. For years, I kept from building many ministry systems in an attempt to keep things feeling relational and organic. However, I found that the lack of systems often did the opposite. Instead, they’d often create a leadership bottleneck, big cracks in our ministries and a lack of delegation to other leaders.
Especially with what ministry looks like in the fall of 2021, I’ve seen healthy leaders lean into redesigning old systems. In this trend in youth ministry, they also built new systems to be more effective to achieve their intended goals. They built systems that were more efficient by preserving resources as they reached their intended goals. Finally, these systems were rebuilt to be more agile, meaning it is easier to call audibles depending on the context of each situation.
3. Be willing to be flexible. (Candice)
I agree with Brett 100% about the trend in youth ministry involving the importance of systems. I’m naturally a pretty systematic thinker, so I’m always game for a good system. But the piece I want to lean in on for a minute is being flexible within your systems. Brett talks about being willing to call an audible and pivoting. There are just things we cannot plan for like a pandemic. Things we don’t realize are happening – like the time the Superbowl was 3 miles from the church. Not to mention things we don’t realize we need to talk about until it’s urgent. We’ve all been there!
Life happens. Our Youth Ministry needs to be able to respond in whatever way that looks like. There is no amount of calendaring and planning that can lay out all that can come in a year. If our ministry isn’t speaking into what’s happening in the world outside of the church, we run the risk of students feeling a disconnect between the church and the world. We even run the risk of students feeling like God only sees one dimension of our life. Yet when the two coexist and even converse and make room for the other, we show students how to live out their faith in real-time.
4. Youth ministry volunteers need a shepherd, not just a leader. (Brett)
Over the past 18 months, so many of our volunteer teams have seen a lot of turnovers. One trend I’m seeing from leaders whose volunteer teams have mostly stayed intact is the value of shepherding their volunteers, not just leading them. Of course your leaders still need leadership. They need to know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and all that important stuff. But when that comes from someone who they feel like really knows them, cares about them, and is in their corner, it lands differently. I’m guessing if you’re reading that, you already know that’s true. It can just be so easy to get lost in everything else that needs to be done. The tyranny of the urgent is constantly pressing. Sometimes, we miss out on the importance of making sure our volunteers are cared for, known, and loved. Not just led.
5. Turnover is inevitable – are you ready for it? (Brett)
One thing our team is seeing over and over again over the last 18 months is staff transition. These months have been challenging enough to lead through. But we’re having conversations with leaders on a regular basis who’ve stepped into a new role and begun their leadership stint in the midst of this season. Not easy. This has challenged me to think about how we’re building our ministries to last beyond us.
Regardless of our long-term plans in ministry, we need to be designing, building, and leading our ministries in a way that sets us up to succeed whether we’re there or not. That doesn’t mean we undervalue what we bring to the team. Rather, it means we have to wonder that if we couldn’t show up tomorrow or transitioned out of the church . . . will it need to be rebuilt?
6. Prioritize the parents of the kids in your youth ministry. (Charlie)
Sometimes I think we are all guilty of overthinking. It’s easy to get bogged down in details that we stop ourselves from doing things. In all honesty, partnering with parents can often feel like the biggest task on on our to-do lists. But what if it was as simple as texting out a four-minute video each week using content from Orange Leaders Membership? What if one day a month you invited parents to stay during your weekly programming time and did a check-in with your parents? You could talk about current issues like anxiety among students and give them resources. It could even be as simple as sharing the highs and lows from the last week. Giving parents a safe place to share and have community may be a great way to partner with the family.
7. Care for your team. (Charlie)
Retaining volunteers often rests on how well you train and love your team. When the flock in your church gets smaller, so does your volunteer pool, which is something I believe a lot of smaller churches are facing right now. An essential part of leadership is loving on your leaders, but how do we continue to support our team when our budgets get cut?
Here is what I know about churches across the globe. You have some incredibly talented people sitting in your pews. Some of the best food I have ever eaten has been prepared by people who attend my church! Why not love on your leaders post-retreat by giving them a warm casserole so they don’t have to worry about dinner? Let’s be real, any kind of baked good equals love. You could even just drop off pizzas, which lets your team know how much you appreciate their time. By providing dinner, you give leaders some of their time back. That seems like a great way to appreciate your team while activating some church members who can share their unique gifts!
I’m sure we could make this list much longer, but we’ll stick to seven for now. What are you learning these days? Drop your thoughts below.
And, if you’re an XP3 subscriber and would like to process some of this with your Orange Specialist, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to chat.
If you need to find out who your Orange Specialist is, you can find out here.