Depending on the youth worker (and how long they have been in the game), giving tips on how to grow the youth ministry will perhaps produce a wide-eyed, "please help me!" plea, or a cynical, "I've heard it all before" grimace.
Both responses are valid, as ways to grow your youth ministry have often been the "Get Rich Quick" or "Lose Weight Fast" equivalent of the ministry world.
Still, there's good reason why youth workers continue to search out helpful blogs and other resources. Part of it is wanting to build dynamic and healthy programs for our students. Another is staving off church leadership that only care about numbers. And lastly, trying to unlock the mystery of what will get students engaged with their faith.
Start with Your Program
I wish I could tell you that there was an easy, three-step solution to grow your youth ministry program. Over the years, I’ve learned that the best way to start is by evaluating your current program and honestly seeing what’s working and what’s not.
Best way to recognize something’s working? Attendance. Often times in youth ministry, we talk about the importance of quality over quantity… but at the end of the day, if you are focused on growth, the numbers do matter.
If you are consistently hosting pizza parties or lock-ins, where only one or two kids show up, it may not be the best approach for your youth. After taking a look at the numbers, ask your kids what they would be interested in. If they aren’t into pizza parties, would they be more interested in cooking activities over a bonfire? What about a movie night?
When we start with our programming – when we make the needs of our students and families primary – we inevitably erase the guilt and shame that overtakes too many ministries which turns "growth" into an idol.
Instead, build a program that celebrates all students who attend your programming – whether that means one, or one hundred. Building a program that encourages and invites students is the first step to healthy growth.
Again, an answer that is simultaneously easy and difficult – especially if you believe the semi-apocryphal statistics of youth ministry tenures.
Still, it's easy to see a correlation between longevity and youth ministry growth. When you've been in a position for years, or even decades, you have the opportunity to build relationships that foster growth.
You get to know the families.
You see students at all ages of their childhoods and adolescence.
Does that mean you should stick around a toxic ministry environment to grow your youth ministry? Of course not! But the longer you're in a role, the more opportunities there are to learn about your community, build your program, and watch it grow.
For many people in the church, growth has a very clear and simple definition.
Are there more students in youth group this week? If yes, you've grown. If not, you haven't. However, true growth isn't always about pure numbers.
There's spiritual growth, as well as the growing sense of community a group of students can share in youth group.
There's growth of knowledge.
Growth in service.
In other words: you decide what growth looks like in your context.
At the end of the day, some youth ministries will never grow in the traditional sense, whether that's due to the size of the church or the community.
It's your job to tell them the story of how your youth ministry. To show them the different ways it is maturing, changing and, yes, GROWING.
Get more perspectives on how to grow your youth ministry by tuning in to the Youth Ministry Podcast. New episodes drop every Friday!