Friday, January 07, 2011

    Do You Keep Pushing Youth Ministry Buttons That Don't Work?

    Why do we continue to follow practices and models of youth ministry that have no real impact on the discipling of youth?

    I recently watched a fascinating PBS documentary about elevators.  Yes, you heard that right -- elevators.  The most interesting tidbit I picked up: nine times out of ten the "door close" button on an elevator isn't even connected.  It serves absolutely no function except to make you feel better by pushing it when you get impatient  (I suspect the same is true of buttons we push on the traffic lights at crosswalks!).  

    This had me wondering: what youth ministry "buttons" do we keep pushing even though they don't work and really accomplish very little in our ministries? Not too many years ago, I finally gave up the practice of opening every youth group gathering with a bunch of crazy games which were intended to set a tone of fun and excitement for the youth but which really just sent the message that the Bible study/discussion program to follow was the boring part of the gathering. Letting go of games as the "entertainment" of the evening opened the way for me to see how we could design opening activities (e.g. community builders) that actually facilitated fellowship (rather than competition and distraction) and tied into the theme of the gathering.

    Are there "buttons" you are pushing in your ministry that don't seem to be connected to anything?  Consider the following experiment :

    1) Make a list of all the activites of your youth ministry program over the last week or month or even year.
    2) Ask: which one of these activities actually help to support the mission/vision of our youth ministry? (If you do not already have a mission/vision statement, you may want to make creating one the first item on this list!).
    3) Ask: Which activities/programs do we do just because "we've always done them?" Which activities may actually be working against or are counterproductive to the goals of our ministry?
    4) Brainstorm with your adults and youth ways you might transform those unproductive activities into program components that will support your goals together.
    5) Develop a discipline of asking, each time you plan an activity or event, "How does this connect to our mission?"

    Your thoughts?  Are there youth ministry buttons you keep pushing without results?  How have you transformed distracting or counterproductive elements of your youth ministry into something helpful and edifying for the teens in your care?

    Update: Read how Adam at Pomomusings tried this approach and discovered some interesting things about his own youth ministry.


    Christopher Wesley said...

    Good post, pretty challenging...some of the buttons I was pushing were weekly meetings with some of my ministers, it was a "Lets meet for meeting sake." I think just like our programming meetings need to be strategic.
    A place right now where I'm probably pushing the buttons...are games. The reason I say that is because I'm not putting too much thought behind how they connect...but the exercise looks like it'll help.

    Anonymous said...

    I hear thing we've taken a good look at are monthly events, and what purpose they serve...we've replaced several with joint worship nights with other churches. Very excited for this.

    Chris: We've moved to every-other-month meetings for our leaders, so we can check-in and such. Then, we have a once-a-month "vision meeting" that includes three students and four adults where we cover things that for some reason I tried to make a part of every weekly or monthly all-leader meeting for six years--nuts and bolts planning, dreaming, etc.

    Brian said...

    I think "meetings" are something the whole church might rethink. We often get into a pattern of having meetings for the sake of meeting with no real focus. Our staff meetings have gone in the last few years from weekly to monthly and they are far more productive now.

    The idea of a regular "visioning" meeting sounds great -- and it makes sense that this sort of gathering would involve a different group than the regular ministry meetings. Thanks for commenting.

    Anonymous said...

    as we start up our new year, you gave me some really good things to chew on. after keeping our calendar and curriculum for the past 5 years mostly intact, it is good to take a fresh look at what we do and why we do it.

    jeremy zach said...

    First of all brillant post.

    The hardest button to push is the eject button, which means to abort X if it isn't working. We only really feel comfortable to hit eject when there is an emergency, which means it is already to late.

    This is why think I strongly believe youth ministry assessment is so huge. The youth pastor is too deeply theologically and practically reflect the values, mission, and programs that his/her youth ministry department is built upon. Granted, I was very quick to make changes and others on my youth ministry team always gave me warnings to just wait.....

    In addition, my youth ministry heart goes out to all the peeps who are stuck in traditions and systems that don't foster change and require the mechanic button push.

    Brian said...

    Good thoughts, Jeremy. I think sometimes we don't push the eject button because we think 1) it amounts to failure or 2) we are afraid of messing with "sacred cows," knowing that getting rid of them will invite criticism and confrontation. The hard part is knowing when to push that button...

    Anonymous said...

    I don't know...

    When we started with junior high ministry a year and a half ago, we weren't even doing games (I'm not a game guy). But we started them because we were realizing that 6th graders don't really like "chillin", but they do like fun.

    I don't know how to balance the mission of making disciples, with the understanding that these are kids, not young adult coffee drinkers.

    But now I'm noticing that God is becoming an after thought. I don't know. I don't want to take up space here. Or maybe I will and transfer it to my blog.

    vincenzo said...

    I think we first have to think about pleasing God and what He wants us to know / grow in faith through our ministry (adults / teens/ ...).
    Sheperd won't worry about what the sheep likes, but a sheperd wud really care and must know what is good for the sheep.
    I'm not talking about the icebreaker games -which are okay to blend the shy kids with the popular group or a bridging to the theme-, I'm talking about the youth fellowship that always wants the main activities to be fun.
    It's never easy to please the youngs with good/useful things, but we won't be wrong by doing/giving what is right, that are things that God wants the youngs to learn, doen't have to be always fun.
    However, we'll be always less fun than an entertainment place, so why keep pressing the wrong button, eh?!