Remembering something I learned about youth ministry nearly 12 years ago...

It was my first lead youth pastor job. I was "on my own", so to speak. At the all-knowing age of 21 I was leading a youth ministry. I was full of energy and fun ideas. I was unstoppable.

As the new school year approached, I was developing a way to kick off the new year in a big way. Brainstorming took place and it was decided that we'd have a big kickoff. We rented this big space for the whole fall that had the whole setup. It had the games, the lights and the pizzazz that would draw teens in hoards. We promoted heavily. We prepped the schedule for the whole night down to the minute. We called it 7:24, since it started at 7:24 and it was based on Matthew 7:24. This would be the place to be in Waterville on Wednesday nights!

The night arrived. We opened the doors ready for everyone to show. It was going to so exciting to see all of the teens show up!

Then reality hit around 7:30...

Two.

Two teens showed up.

The next week, two teens showed up again...but it was two different ones!

It was a humbling experience, but it was also a learning experience too.

Everything about my youth ministry training to that point had told me that relationships were key to everything. Building relationships was going to be the building block for any youth ministry that wanted to be successful. But in that season, I had forgotten that. I had bought into the idea that a certain space or games or lights were going to draw the students in. I was reminded very quickly that would never be the case.

Teens desire authentic, real friendships with people in faith community. When I think back to what drew me to my youth group, it was the community and feeling of belonging. What drew me back week after week was not a great building or flashy programming, but real community.

Luckily in my time in Waterville, we moved things back to the church, got back to basics and eventually grew that ministry to many more than two. It was great to be a part of.

I am thankful for that moment of learning though. To this day, I still occasionally get sucked into the idea that we need to do something flashy to grow. Then I remember 7:24 and remain grounded in that instead of creating a space for awesome games and great decor, we need to create space for deep belonging and real community.

Are having games, decor and a wonderful space bad? Of course not. They can be great assets! But don't ever count on them alone to grow your ministry. I learned that instead of being in my office planning some event, I needed to be in the community connecting with students where they are. 12 years later, I continue to do that to this day. It is the one of the most important things I do each week.

The first Wednesday night in the fall of 2007 was hard. It at the time likely felt like a failure. But I am a better youth pastor for it. That's for sure.

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