In youth ministry, there are many key hurdles that you to have deal with when trying to connect with students and connect students to Jesus. Recently, Barna Group asked youth leaders this question: “What are the top three challenges of youth ministry?” Just over 30 percent mentioned the breakdown of families and 41 percent said lack of interest from parents—but the overwhelming majority (86 percent) named the busyness of youth as the top challenge.
Many of us in the youth ministry world would agree that our students have become increasingly busier in recent years. From school assignments to sports to social events with friends and family, the list goes on.
However, there is hope. Here are three keys for dealing with the busyness of students in your youth ministry.
1. Be realistic.
Understand that your students are busy, and while you might desire for them to attend every event your ministry puts on, the reality is that most of them won’t.
If you plan for their absence, you can also plan for ways to connect with them and catch them up to what they missed. For example, if you are doing a multiweek teaching series, but you know some students will miss some of the weeks, you can plan ahead by making the handouts, lessons and even the video or audio of the sermon available online. I know some leaders who send out text messages, emails or tweets to students with the main points, highlights and challenge (you should always have a challenge) from each lesson.
2. Be mobile and creative.
As youth ministry leaders, we cannot expect students to only connect with God and with us during services and programs. Therefore, we need to create ministry opportunities that are away from the church and closer to where the students are in order for us to be effective.
Your youth ministry can and should be involved with the schools that your students attend. Even with limited resources, you can do something. Have a ministry of presence outside of the church so that your students and their friends can see you and God in the places they live.
In the past, the youth ministries I’ve led have sponsored local football teams by providing Gatorade and praying for the players before practices and games. We have gotten permission to come onto school campuses during lunch to provide free water and pizza for students and teachers. Whatever you do, bring your youth ministry into the busy lives of your students as an example of God in the midst of their busy lives.
3. Be prayerful.
When trying to tackle the busyness of our students, we need to be prayerful, asking God to show us how to best engage with and empower our students.
Ask God to show you ways that you can fine-tune your youth ministry to make it easier for students to be active in the ministry. Also ask God to show you the leaders who can help you engage the students in their busyness.
Consider encouraging your volunteers to attend sporting events, performances and other school events to support your students, showing them that not only does your youth ministry care about their lives—God cares, too. No one person can do youth ministry alone. I tell youth ministry leaders this all the time and wrote about it in After the Music Stops: Effective Youth Ministry Beyond the Big Event: “The less you do, the more you can do.” If you give away responsibilities to your leaders, it will free you up to reach more students.
At the end of the day, our students are busy, and they will only get busier as life becomes more complicated. Our role is to engage their busyness and strategically minister to and serve them where they are, while making every effort to bring them closer to Christ. Use their busyness as a bridge and not a barrier.
How do you deal with the busyness of your students? Anything I left out?
Russell St. Bernard (@PastorRuss09) is the youth minister at Reid Temple AME Church’s north campus in Glenn Dale, Maryland, and the founder of After the Music Stops, a full-service youth ministry resource company dedicated to assisting leaders and parents as they serve their students.