Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Birth of Holistic Youth Ministry

This post is a response to yesterday's article, The Death of Luther League.

The challenge with all ministry is to find the sweet spot of being counter-cultural while embracing the cultural realities that people face outside of church. Abandoning the old Luther League model of ministry is only helpful if a different model emerges. My belief is that youth ministry requires a more holistic approach to youth, church, and spirituality. Here are some ways to give life to this new approach:

1. Encourage kids to use their gifts at church. Make sure young people fill out a time-and-talent list or spiritual gifts inventory. Encourage their involvement in the entire church's ministry, as their gifts and interests dictate. Avoid the temptation to exclusively plug kids in to youth activities. Integrating youth in the life of the congregation will help everyone to move from "us vs. them" to "we".

2. Forge connections. Joining a new small group, class, or ministry group can be intimidating for anyone, regardless of age. Help young people connect with someone in their new group that will look out for them. You might need to contact this prospective mentor in advance and ask them to help assimilate the young person.

3. Encourage kids to use their gifts outside of church. Christians are a sent people. Churches should help young people find ways to live faithfully in the midst of their seemingly mundane routine. Educate yourself about civic, academic, or social justice groups that provide a natural avenue for them to live out their faith. Check in with young people throughout the week to inform them of these opportunities.

4. Offer several age-specific entry points at church. Just because Luther League died doesn't mean there is no longer value in bringing teens together. Consider balancing occasional large group activities with a variety of small group opportunities. For example, the church where I work offers a Wednesday evening Bible study, Sunday morning breakfast club, and Sunday evening service / fellowship events. None of these are times that even half of the total active youth are present. While there are times that I lament that "only" a handful of people are present in any one time, I know that more people are connected with a peer group because there are multiple options each week.

These are just a few ideas of how to move from a Luther League model to a more holistic model of youth ministry. None of these are truly new (there are no new ideas) - but perhaps we have reached a point where we need to bid farewell to an old definition of success and embrace a different approach to guiding young people along their journey of faith.

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