A first youth ministry job can be intimidating at the start. The church you're serving likely has expectations for what youth ministry has been and what it will be in the future (not to mention a few unspoken rules you probably won't learn until you break). On top of that, you have to meet and connect with all the students in your group, determine what the ministry has been doing right, identify opportunities, get to know fellow clergy and staff, all while acting like you totally know what you're doing (because you do!).
Take a moment and just breathe.
When you're just starting, youth ministry can feel daunting. However, let these four tips make it a little easier to step into your new role with confidence, direction, and energy.
1. Have a plan
- Make a schedule for the year and publicize it early. At a minimum, have any bigger trips or events planned. If you feel comfortable and you have access to the information, including a teaching plan for Sunday school, youth group, or Bible study will also go a long way.
- Schedule some easy wins. Easy to organize, fun events are a great way to hit the ground running. Messy game nights. Lock-ins. Bowling. These "wins" bring instant credibility with both students and parents.
- Be flexible. No matter how well you plan, a conflict will come up. People will critique the schedule. Take a deep breath and revise. There's nothing to be gained by being rigid, and the points you can score by listening and responding to concerns are worth the headache of rescheduling an event or two. Listening to feedback can be the best way to understand what a congregation wants and needs.
2. Define success
Start with your own goals. In five years, what do you want this ministry to look like? Is success numerical, spiritual, or a combination of the two? Surfacing our expectations around goals allows you to not only build a plan but also to establish a metric to measure the ministry with in the future.
Map it out. Many people don't know what a thriving youth ministry looks like and it's your job to help them envision what their youth ministry could become. Talking about what success looks like will get people invested, and those people will advocate for your program.
- Start laying the groundwork. Small steps are fine. Nothing needs to happen overnight. If you have notions of blowing up the entire program and installing something new - don't. You may see multiple opportunities for change, but unless there are certain aspects of a program that are actually doing more harm than good, take your time.
3. Learn to fail
- If there's one thing sure about running ministry, it's this: you will mess up eventually. Knowing it now doesn't exactly help in the moment, but remember that you're not alone.
- Acknowledge your failure. Nobody's asking you to step up to the pulpit on Sunday morning to confess a forgotten email, but owning your mistakes by being a mature adult and a responsible youth worker is critical to your success.
- Move forward. When you make a mistake, don't dwell on it. Yes, you probably feel a bit sheepish. But still, use the incident in a constructive way. Talk to people it affected, apologize if necessary, and learn from the mistake. And then: move on!
4. Stick around
- Does it seem like your efforts are not going as far or making change as fast as you had hoped? Always return to your vision of success. Ask yourself: what are you building here? What will it look like in five years? A dynamic ministry doesn't happen overnight or, frankly, even in the first two years. It takes time to do youth ministry. Give yourself plenty of it.
- Ask a friend or a mentor. When you do feel like quitting, or the Holy Spirit nudges you toward another role, seek out some guidance from ministry friends, or trusted people in your life to help you make the correct decision.
- Good youth ministry is long youth ministry. One of the best parts of youth ministry is the ability to walk with students through some of the most exciting and sometimes difficult parts of their lives. But this doesn't happen if we jump from church to church. Stick around. See what happens. Believe in your efforts and the congregation you serve.
Of course, these words of advice are not the golden key to having a successful youth ministry; you must figure what that means for you and your community. Use these guidelines to give yourself a sense of direction and organization. Your program is going to reflect how much effort you put into it, so get out there and take on your new youth ministry job with gusto!
Once you have established your role and if you are looking to make a change to your Sunday School curriculum, check out “Sunday School: What types of curriculum are available?", “Sunday School Curriculum: What kind of curriculum do I want?," and “Sunday School Curriculum: How to evaluate curriculum."