How do I start a youth group? What do I do when things aren’t working?

These are questions I often see pop up in the various student ministry groups I am a part of online. Have you asked these questions, too? Maybe you’re at a church where you are actually starting the ministry from scratch, and you don’t know where to begin. Maybe you’re ready to go back to the drawing board in your current ministry.

Other than the obvious suggestion to pray a lot, here are two tips that I have learned through the years when I was in similar situations.

Start Small

All the psychology experts will tell you that humans only have the capacity to know a certain number of people. We have even less capacity for people we really can pour into. Even Jesus had a small number of men that He discipled, and three He really took under His wing. If you are going to start a ministry from scratch or start over, it is important to keep it small. Don’t feel like you must do huge events that bring in tons of teenagers. Instead, focus on a core group of teens who are open to growing. Over time, and with the proper discipleship, they will bring in their friends, and you will begin to attract a crowd — the Gospel will do that. But do not overwhelm yourself with planning gigantic outreach events that end up draining your time and budget.

The same goes for your volunteer team. Begin with a small group of adults (maybe even one or two) who truly love God and students. Pour into them, and help them to become great leaders. Then, entrust them to care for a small group of teens on their own. That way, you can begin to multiply your ministry through them. Remember, you can only reach so many people on your own. Start small and build over time.

Start Young

I don’t always encourage churches and ministries to think in business terms, but sometimes it is helpful. Thinking along those lines, doesn’t it make sense to invest where you will get the biggest return? While many youth leaders may feel led to go to the older high schoolers, the truth is that growth happens when you build up the younger students. Older high school students are often already checking out in a struggling or non-existent student ministry.

This is a difficult one for many people because we feel like we are ignoring the older students. Remember that people-capacity thing we talked about? It is okay to focus where we are going to see the most return in the long run. That does not mean you should completely ignore the juniors and seniors, but just give more attention to the younger ones. They are the students who will grow up in this new ministry, and they are the ones who will help the numbers grow, too. My current ministry is now seeing the benefit of this concept. Our current high school ministry is going very well because these were the students we started with when they were in fifth through eighth grade.

Yes, there are always exceptions to these rules. You might have excellent results from doing large group events with your juniors and seniors, but I have found that is definitely the exception. So, whether you are starting from scratch or rebuilding your student ministry, I encourage you to do two things: start small and start young.

How have you seen these principles work in your ministry? Do you have other tips to share? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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