On a recent call with Alan Roxburgh, author of Structured for Mission, I heard Al say two really compelling things. First, people are no longer hardwired to go to church like they once were. Second, given this changing culture, those of us who work in the church need to constantly reexamine what it means for our ministries to be healthy. In Al's words, “What we mean by the word healthy needs to be interrogated.”
Our current cultural reality means that we can no longer judge the health of our ministries by our numbers. It's entirely possible to have a youth ministry of 100 kids that is very unhealthy but have a very healthy ministry of 10 students.
With that in mind, here are 10 characteristics that I use to examine the health of my youth ministry. Healthy youth ministries...
1. Welcome teens: Whether teens are there for the first or hundredth time, in a healthy youth ministry, teens feel comfortable enough to be themselves. They feel confident enough to express their opinion, even if it differs from everyone else in the room. Regardless of what they say or do, they feel as though they belong and that they will be missed if they are not there.
2. Foster relationships: Most youth workers believe in the power of relational ministry. But how do you know whether or not your ministry is relational? To me, a youth ministry is healthy relationally if the relationships that are being formed within the church walls extend outside of them. In other words: Do the teens in your ministry – especially those who go to different schools – hang out with each other outside of church events? If they do, you're doing something right relationally.
3. Support teens: Healthy youth ministries support teens (and their families) in their everyday lives. They serve as a resource for teens and their families when life is going well in addition to the times when life sucks. They are present in the lives of students, not just on Sundays and Wednesdays but throughout the week.
4. Engage teens: Are the teens on your roster active in your ministry? When teens attend a youth ministry function, how engaged are they in what's happening? Are they sitting there like lumps on a log, bored to death or are they actively participating in whatever it is you're doing? The more engaged teens are in your ministry, the more healthy it is.
5. Take risks: Healthy youth ministries refuse to settle for the status quo. Instead, they take calculated risks knowing that (to steal the old John Ortberg title) if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. Healthy youth ministries dare to dream big, knowing that growth (of any kind) seldom happens without risk.