My first youth ministry position was at a church that had basically plateaued. I was working with a Senior Pastor that was a great Shepherd to his flock. We had about 30 students in the the youth ministry. During my fourth year the youth ministry really started to grow. We eventually were averaging around 100 students and 20 adult leaders. The mistake I made was one of pride. I was so excited to see the growth taking place in the YM that I failed to see how this could help breathe life into the whole church. I remember even saying once to my youth staff, "Let's catch the Sunday AM attendance so that they will have to notice us." This was a mistake. I should have been equally invested in the life of the whole church, and thinking of ways to help bring health to the whole body. Often in YM it is easy to get tunnel vision and only be focused on our ministry, our program, our silo. Looking back on this, I have learned that we are called to serve the body of Christ. Yes, we get to disciple and spend time with students, but we are a part of a bigger team. It's not a competition between us and them. If your ministry is growing, great, celebrate that win, but also look for ways to serve the whole church. The gifts you bring, the passion you have, and your energy can be a blessing to your church.
Another mistake I made was competing against myself. It was going to be a great night out with the students. Pizza and bowling is what was printed on the flyer. Be at the church on Friday night at 6:30pm! Sounds like fun. We advertised it for a number of weeks, had our small group leaders on board promoting it to their students. Parents were informed. We felt good about our promotion of this event. The night finally arrived. Everything was confirmed and ready to go when 6:30 rolled around. We had 10 adults there ready to hop on the buses and a total of three students. Okay, not to worry, maybe they are all just running late. It's 6:35 now and up to 13 adults and four students. A little frustration begins to sink in. I remember thinking, "Come on parents, be on time for once." Five more minutes and we have 15 adult leaders and five students. That's it. Now I am confused. Why didn't more students show up? A Youth Ministry of over 300 students and we get five? It wasn't until a couple of my youth leaders who see the disappointed look on my face come over and say, "You know, last weekend our small group had an overnighter and everyone came. Then the other leader says, "Yeah, we have one planned next week." They reminded me of what I had been challenging them to do: build relationships with your students. For example, do a night of pizza and bowling, do an overnighter, spend time with your students. It hit me right then. We were competing against ourselves. Students are busy, and we all know that. So, why do we think that every weekend should be filled with "our" programs? That was the last time we hosted a Youth Ministry Friday night event. Now the expectation is that all my small group leaders are hosting events. Students are more likely to show up for a small group event with their friends and leaders than anything else we plan. The lesson here is not to cancel every event. We still have a few scattered in throughout the year, but we really rely on our small group leaders to be bowling with our students instead of planning a larger event.