Does Your Church Have a Youth Ministry or just a Youth Program?
When it comes to reaching young people in our churches, there’s a clear distinction between cultivating a vibrant youth ministry and simply having a youth program. While we commend any efforts to connect with the younger generation, churches with a youth ministry are far more successful in engaging young people.
What exactly is the difference between a youth program and a youth ministry?
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14
A youth program or youth group is typically sponsored by the church once or twice a week. It operates within a specific timeframe and follows a structured format. These programs often have a small core group of teenagers whose parents are already active members of the church.
However, their involvement is sporadic, as they only participate when their schedule allows.
Bored Kids Won’t Invite Their Friends
It’s not uncommon for kids to miss meetings and events due to conflicting commitments. Sadly, they rarely invite their friends to join in. Teenagers involved in youth programs often don’t actively engage in the broader church community.
Unfortunately, some adults in the church even view the youth program as a financial burden, despite investing in it to retain the parents’ involvement.
Shockingly, a significant number of teens who go through youth programs eventually drift away from the church during their college years, with many never returning.
On the other hand, a youth ministry is a whole different ballgame. It arises from the church’s passionate desire to share the Gospel with young people. While structured activities are a part of it, youth ministries also embrace impromptu events and casual hangouts.
Whether it’s sharing a hamburger at McDonald’s, enjoying ice cream at the local shop, playing board games or video games, there’s plenty of time spent building relationships.
Within a youth ministry, teens and their adult chaperones truly know each other, support one another, and become actively involved in each other’s lives. These teens often come from outside the church, eager to participate and often without family support.
Adult volunteers in the church actively seek ways to integrate these teens into the broader church community. Despite occasional challenges that may arise, the church adults are genuinely excited about the transformative impact they see in the lives of these young people.
I’ve noticed in some churches I’ve visited, if they even have a youth group, their programs tend to stay limited to their core group, without much expansion.
In contrast, churches with youth ministries often struggle to find enough space to accommodate the influx of young people responding to their outreach efforts. Churches with youth programs see these activities as a mere obligation to secure the future of the church.
However, churches with youth ministries view them as a genuine expression of their faith and an opportunity to build the church of today.
Our Church’s 3-Part Youth Ministry
The church I belong to, MCC, has an ever-growing and “totally committed” youth ministry.
I’d venture to say that we have the most outreach programs in our general community to bring new children and teens into our ministries than any other church.
1. GrowKids: for infants through the 6th grade. This part concentrates on the nursery workers building a solid, trusting relationship with the “babies” in our church through kids in the 6th grade.
2. AWANA: for kids 3 years old through 6th grade. Our AWANA program meets Wednesday nights during Family Night.
3. TCYM – Our Totally Committed Youth Ministry: starting with the kids from 6th grade through 12th grade. The Youth Group meets on Sundays, Wednesdays as part of Family Night, and as mentioned earlier, this group goes on missions trips and the teens even “take over” our church on Sunday services a couple of times a year.
The Teen Takeover event places youth in all of the places where adults usually serve: door greeters, lobby greeters, ushers, bulletin greeters, opening and closing prayers, and giving the morning message. We even have a full teen worship team to play the music!
The kids’ groups at our church were a huge inspiration to me right from our first visit. I’m sure many of you have walked into a church and seen the kids who didn’t want to be there. They’re there because mommy and daddy dragged them there, but there wasn’t really anything for them to do but sit and be quiet.
In contrast, all of the kids and teens at our church are smiling, happy, shiny people who love coming to church! The teens help the younger kids; the adults help the teens, and it makes visiting our church an uplifting and unforgettable experience.
We have several family events planned every year that have something for everyone. These events encourage the whole family to come out and see what our church is all about.
Every year we have a huge car show with games and food and fun for everyone. We do a Harvest Festival, Easter Egg Hunt, Upwards Soccer, Craft Fairs, Flea Markets, Trunk or Treat Halloween, and an annual carnival with rides and games. Those are just some of the events I’m most familiar with.
Our church heavily invests in our youth with other fund-raising events throughout the year where the proceeds benefit our Youth Ministry to take the kids on special field ministry trips, sometimes out of state.
We’re a Bible-believing, non-denominational, Christian church that loves our community, and as our pastor has said a few times, ‘We will do anything, short of sin, to bring people to Jesus.’
Your Church’s Youth Ministry Must Be Committed to Reaching Teens
Furthermore, I’ve observed that churches with youth programs seldom witness unchurched teens experiencing life-changing moments with Christ. Although they may witness many teens praying the “sinner’s prayer” during special events, these experiences often don’t translate into significant life transformations.
In stark contrast, churches with youth ministries have the privilege of witnessing unchurched teens being completely transformed as they turn away from their old ways and discover new life in Christ.
Interestingly, churches with youth programs tend to invest more money in paid staff and designated programs. However, churches with youth ministries rely heavily on dedicated volunteers who operate on shoestring budgets, driven by their unwavering commitment to reaching teenagers.
Does Your Church Have a Youth Program or a Youth Ministry?
Let us strive to embrace the creative and purposeful approach of a youth ministry, where we can express our faith through cultivating meaningful connections and creating spaces for transformation.
And always keep your youth in your daily prayers that they will stay on the path that God has chosen for them!