It works everywhere else but here

When I was first getting into Youth Ministry, the Anglican Youth Ministries (AYM) was pushing a program for youth ministries by Ken Moser. The whole idea of this was to develop a style of youth ministry that would work in both large and small youth groups, and enable the youth worker to not burn out in their average 18 months.

I went along, I did the training, and it sounded great. So we tried it out at our youth group. It didn’t work so well. The program was almost a church service, and our youth (who had all grown up in the Church) were coming to youth group to get something that wasn’t Church. It may well have been a good program, but it wasn’t a good program for the youth that we had.

Over my time as a youth leader, I have read numerous books of programs purporting to have “THE” program that will work at any church, that will work at any size youth group, and will work with any youth. I eventually grew skeptical of these claims, as while they were all written by youth leaders who had remarkable stories of taking their youth groups from single figures into the hundreds, they had seemed to forget that starting element, and their programs that they promoted just didn’t seem to work in smaller groups.

The other day, I heard someone complaining about a youth group program that was being pushed because “it worked everywhere else” yet the first night they ran it, instead of having a youth group of 30-40 like they have for their activity nights, they had 7 attend for this bible study. I’m not saying that bible study is not a great thing to have as a youth ministry, but it depends on your situation. The kids that were coming to this youth group were mainly kids from the community, who had no knowledge of Christ yet, and were more so interested in the activities than study.

What I’ve now realised that the program that works “everywhere else” or the program that works with “any sized group” should carry a disclaimer – “except in your situation”.

Youth Ministry must be one of the toughest gigs in the church. Many people have said this, so I’m not saying anything new here. You go into youth ministry with certain expectations of what you will be able to achieve. However, you also have to balance up what the minister expects you to achieve, what the parents of “Churched” youth want you to achieve, what the rest of the church community wants you to achieve, and what the community wants you to provide.

Each one of those expectations will be different depending on your community. One church minister may have an expectation that the youth leader will bring in a lot of members from the community. Another minister may prefer his youth leader to be focussing on building up the youth already within the church.

Because of this, no book that claims to have the method for your situation will actually work, because the expectations that they were working under will be totally different to the expectations you are working under.

However, you – as a youth leader – should still be reading these books. A youth leader needs to be constantly coming up with fresh ideas, and the more ideas they have, the longer they can go before repeating those they have already used. (However, be prepared to repeat ones that worked – one youth group I had was very musical, so talent nights, and Spicks and Specks quiz nights worked very well. They however didn’t work so well at the next youth group I worked at which had a very different community).

So before you go and start that “next big thing” or that program that has worked everywhere else, ask this most important question: “Will it work here? Why?”

You’ll save yourself a whole lot of work trying to make a square program fit a round community.

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

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