Tuesday, December 02, 2008

    BRANDING YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY: A good idea?

    The Edge! The Blaze! The Surge! The Core! Remember the good old days when we just called it "youth group?" Seems like every youth ministry now has to have some name that assures interested teens that "our group isn't boring!" (e.g. We're "On Fire!" We are living on "The Edge!") And often these names are clever acronyms for an even longer name (S.T.I.N.C. - Soulful Teens In Christ...or something like that). And having a cool name generally leads to having a cool logo, which leads to having cool shirts emblazoned with the logo and a cool website...and maybe even mugs, hats, boxers, and mouse pads. All in an effort to brand the youth ministry and to give it a distinctive identity. Which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, I guess. It's certainly very in keeping with the corporate world we live in where teens can you tell you by heart the slogan for just about every product out there (Just do it! Have it your way! Think Outside the Bun!)


    But it makes me wonder....With the growing consensus amongst youth ministers that we've done a pretty good job of isolating youth from the wider church, doesn't branding of a youth ministry just add to this problem? Why create an identity for your ministry that is separate and distinct from the identity of your church? What is wrong with calling yourselves "the youth ministry of First Church" (or whatever your church's name happens to be)? Why not spend more time helping youth feel a part of the wider church community of which you are a part, rather than creating a niche identity that the teens may not even associate with the sponsoring congregation?
    --Brian

    24 comments:

    ramblingsofpassion said...

    while youth ministry has seemed to drift from connection to the wider church body, i'm going to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the "old folks" in the church.

    there are so many reasons that teens are "inconvenient" for sunday morning services and wider church events so what happens? they outsource the care of today's students: they hire a youth pastor (of which I'm one).

    if i could preach a sermon to my whole church, i'd ream them for being disconnected from students and children. not just on sunday morning, but in everything.

    there are so many reasons why this is wrong.

    that being said, i think that it is OK for student ministries to work on branding their ministry. it creates a safe feeling for parents (especially those who don't grow up churched).

    e6eleven said...

    Your thoughts here are part of the reason why I really prefer familiy ministry to yout ministry. As a youth minister you get 3-5 hours a week with the teens, while they typically watch more hours of TV in single day! Providing resources and ministering to whole families, I believe, is a better approach.
    Have I done that perfectly, No! Churches sometimes get stuck in the rut, they do what others churches do and stop thinking critically about things.
    I don't know anyone who believes that the early church had youth programs. Services were inter-generational. I think we need to get back to that approach in mnay ways.

    mcdaniel clan said...

    i'll tell you, i recently went away from "youth group" for a brand. i don't really know why, except for the fact that i wanted kids to associate a name with our particular meeting. i see the issue of separating from the church, but chose to name them so kids could identify with something that is "theirs" or particular to them at church.

    i wonder, are kids from outside the church more likely to come to a "brand name" than to a church name?

    what did i name our groups? Junior High "Alien Workshop" and High School "unwind."

    Marv Nelson said...

    @ramblingsofpassion I agree that the "old folks" have in a way deserted the youth. However, putting the whole blame on them is quite frankly sinful. I'm in an old church with a lot of old people who have no interest in my teens...so I go to them. We have a responsibility to get our teens in the lives of the older generations...we are their one and only bridge (in most cases). Have you ever asked an older person why they don't get involved? I have and the answer isn't because those teens are such scoundrels eww stay away...it's because they don't feel loved or welcome by us the youth pastor or by the teens.
    One way God asked me to bridge this gap is to help the older folks with my leadership team of high school students to go to the nursing home and minister together to the elderly. It will look different in every church, but this is one way.
    Also, with the branding issue, for me I see as a non-issue to be honest. I feel it gives a sense of ownership to the teens and if you have a good relationship with the church, it can help church folks take ownership as well. Good thoughts Brian!

    jeremy zach said...

    great post!! amen!!

    i always crack up when i meet a youth pastor and he/she boldly states: Yes I am the youth pastor for Garage student ministries.

    I am like what?

    Luke said...

    I don't think having a separate name for your youth ministry sets up any major dilemma. However, that being said, I do think we should seriously consider what we put that name on, or how important it becomes. We can easily become a business without even realizing it, selling to our youth various items with the name branded on it. So you get some sweaters, and some really trendy shirts that sets your group apart from any other. Maybe your image is so well designed people wouldn't even know its for a group about God, but would of course make other youth ask "where did you get that awesome shirt"? Which inevitably leads to a conversation about the youth group you attend and sure enough in a short while your youth group is packed right? Be careful people how much stock we put on an "image" to get people interested in God. I have had those same ideas before and realized they didn't work, and any kids I got out because of a trendy name or logo ended up being christian vegetables after high school. If it is not because of the power of God our youth group grows, then i don't want growth for the sake of growth.

    Brian said...

    Excellent ideas all around. I purposely posed the title of this post as a question because, though I knew what I thought about the issue, I realize there are different sides to this. Branding can be useful --many churches as a whole work on developing a brand for themselves (my church has "branded" itself as a church focused on the arts as a way to spread the gospel) and branding a youth ministry can be a positive thing, as long as it doesn't give the impression that the youth ministry stands alone from the church (otherwise, doesn't it just become a parachurch group?).

    thekeystone said...

    Here's a bit of a different thought on branding:

    With our younger students (7-8), they just want to get to know eachother and are frankly are not mature enough to go too deep with God. I think branding here can be a great way to draw kids in and begin to foster mentoring relationships that deepen in the future.

    BUT but the time they get into grade 9 or 10 they are looking for something far different. The ministry has to speak for itself, the brand is no longer as important.

    Sonrise SM said...

    This has been an issue that I've been struggling with for the last couple years. We just changed our ministry name from Crossfire Student Ministries to Sonrise SM. I kept feeling that our group was being pulled away from the church in a whole. Not because we wanted to be or that the "old folks" didn't want anything to do with us. I found that we were not trying hard enough to be a part of the church. Things just naturally seemed to drift over time and everyone seemed all right with it.

    In the last month we have done several things to bridge the camp between our "two churches." I am excited to see how God has blessed this change.

    I am not saying that having exciting names is a bad thing, I've just found that is was a part of us losing our focus on the church as a whole.

    Brian said...

    Sonrise,
    Thanks for sharing. I think you are on the right track here. The branding is not so much the issue as whether or not it is being used to separate the youth ministry from the regular church (and so sending a not-so-subtle message that regular church is boring/irrelevant/uncool) ets. Branding can help add a sense of identity to a youth ministry but I agree that we still must work hard to help youth see their connection to the wider church.

    ebccrosswalk said...

    Love your thoughts here! I've been thinking through some similar issues while sharpening the ministry philosophy of my youth ministry so that new youth leaders can get a good idea what they're in for and what to expect. I wrestled a little with whether or not we should even have a different Mission Statement from our church, or whether or not that simply broadens the gulf that so easily comes between the church and their youth ministry. I ended up writing a mission statement that's parallel with the church's, but with different keywords.

    I appreciate your encouragement here to remember that our youth ministries aren't entities in themselves.

    Brian said...

    eb == I love your idea about writing parallel mission statements for the church and youth ministry. This would be a good way, for those who still want to do some heavy-duty branding, to still demonstrate how the youth program is part of the work of the wider church. THanks for sharing.

    crane5000 said...

    I named my Wednesday night youth service, not my youth group. We have a "brand" name for two reasons. First, when you have common ground you tend to unite a little more. I wish every youth I have would just walk up and say I am a lover of Jesus. Doesn't happen that often. But, I can put an environment together that stresses Jesus and his calling on us. We call Wednesday nights the Edge because we believe Jesus hung out with those on the edge of society, that we should live dangerously on the edge sharing our faith, and we believe many that we love are living dangerously close to the edge of hell. Branding can be positive if it is encapsulated in Jesus.
    Second reason I branded the get together is in the off chance that it makes it sound a little more attractive to a lost/unchurched student or if it makes it easier for one of the youth to invite. Which sounds better youth or edge? I know you must think that this might be selling out for relevance. I just think that Jesus made everything sound exciting so why shouldn't I do the same. If I can empower a youth to overcome their fear of inviting others by using a name and making a t-shirt, I think it is all right as long as they get the gospel when they get here. My two cents...

    Brian said...

    Crane, thanks for sharing. You rightly demonstrate that the branding of a youth ministry can be done for thoughtful theological reasons.

    eric fehrman said...

    I really liked most of this post until I got to the end, then I was discouraged...

    a. even 50 years into the future the silliness of "protest rallies" still hasn't worn off?

    b. why do I want my teens at a "protest rally"? Is this even remotely biblical?

    oh well...
    Eek

    kfbcstudents said...

    I agree with this more than I can even say. After 11 years a student pastor I can say that this disconnect runs both ways when this happens. Not only do our students miss out on the opportunity to be mentored and loved on by a greater body of believers (some of whome have walked with Christ 40 or 50 years), but often our adults become far removed from the student ministry. No wonder students leave the church when they leave youth group. We have painted an unrealistic picture of what the church was intended to be. There must be an intentional effort by both the student minstry and the "church" to rally around one another.

    As a student pastor I am passionate about student minstry for sure. I desire to see Jesus captivate the hearts of my students in a way that will carry on for generations to come. I can't do that alone. Not without partnering with parents, not without fostering deep meaningful relationships for students with "older" members.

    I could go on forever I guess on this, but I won't. Thank you for the post.

    The Nince said...

    I was googling "Reasons Why We Need A Youth Only Service In Church" when I came across this post.
    Well, am 24 yrs old and a youth leader in my Church. The reason I was searching for this was because I was feeling that we are losing most of our young people by not having a youths only church service. The service itself can be led by the church elders and pastors but the sermons being preached to be tailor made for the youths and issues affecting the youths.
    Where am I coming from? You might ask:
    A few weeks ago, we had an evangelist who was about 27yrs old about to be ordained to be a priest but it was cancelled by our bishop for reasons we haven't been told yet. He was one of the youth leaders.
    Another incident that happened still not so long ago, one of the ladies who was also a youth leader and a member of the church's worship team decided to leave the worship team and join the teens ministry as one of their leaders. The move was not seen as anything wrong until about 3 months down the line, we hear she stopped coming to church and that she's pregnant.
    Am sure all these incidents are issues we have to deal with in any youth group but from where I sit as the overall leader of all this young people, I am faced with the question "What is not going right?".
    We have branded our youth group as StAY Alive Fellowship, the StAY being an acronym for our Church's name St. Andrews Youth. So we are the St. Andrews Youth Alive Fellowship.
    Our blog www.stayalivefellowship.blogspot.com
    In a nutshell, I need your advice on whether you think having a youth service where youths can fellowship together as a unit is better than combining the youths with the adults.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Nince, Sounds like you have a real challenge on your hands. Let me say up front that whatever my opinion may be, YOU are the expert when it comes to your ministry. Though I believe in general that we need to do more in our churches to bring youth and adults together, what your teens may need most right now is time together. Once you established some sense of stability and identity, then perhaps will be the right time for you to look for new ways to help the adults welcome the youth into fuller participation within the wider fellowship of your church. Good Luck!

    gray said...

    I tried that also a year ago, to add some excitement for the young people. But it never materializes, cause I think it just lost the original concept. What really matters is that they feel a sense of belongingness, and to take care of their spiritual growth.

    Mike Stark said...

    I've been thinking quite a bit about this lately - we're thinking through a new youth activity we're planning on launching in the new year.

    I don't think we have the problem of being disassociated with the rest of the church. But often young people are surprised that they're in a church in the first place - the building looks more like a community centre, and the types of young people we're working with are used to engaging with community centres. It gives us lots of opportunities to have gospel conversations with young people, which is exciting.

    I've tried to summarise my thoughts on this in my blog post:

    http://niddriepastor.com/2011/12/21/youth-groups-that-do-what-they-say-on-the-tin/

    ... which includes a list of some of the best youth group names I've found online.

    Mike Stark said...

    I've been thinking quite a bit about this lately - we're thinking through a new youth activity we're planning on launching in the new year.

    I don't think we have the problem of being disassociated with the rest of the church. But often young people are surprised that they're in a church in the first place - the building looks more like a community centre, and the types of young people we're working with are used to engaging with community centres. It gives us lots of opportunities to have gospel conversations with young people, which is exciting.

    I've tried to summarise my thoughts on this in my blog post:

    http://niddriepastor.com/2011/12/21/youth-groups-that-do-what-they-say-on-the-tin/

    ... which includes a list of some of the best youth group names I've found online.

    MURGE411 said...

    I'm curious. What's the difference between branding a youth ministry and branding a church? If we are "the church" shouldn't those that oppose branding a youth ministry be against each church calling themselves a different name too?

    Matthew Codd said...

    I preached a sermon this morning talking about how good society is at separating us, a sort of divide and conquer mentality to marketing. I stated that God's kingdom isn't in the business of petty divisions.

    I'm torn in regards to this issue, on one hand if branding contributes to further separation and lost identity with the church as a whole, then scrap it.

    However if branding helps unify teens around a common purpose. Does indeed make for good tshirt advertisements and makes talking about the Youth easier than the rather bland brand of "Youth Group" than perhaps I'm for it.

    I may compromise, brand my Youth ministry but be sure to always note the larger body we are a part of. in our tab on the website we have listed the larger church's core values, not because "we agree with them" but because we are part of the church.

    great post, great discussion.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Thanks for sharing Matthew and I think you suggest a good balance between too much of a "marketing" approach while also giving the ministry a unique identity.