Connecting Our Students to Jesus

imagesStudents desire to feel connected. Whether it is to a team, a musician, or a youth ministry, middle and high school students want to feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves! All we have to do is turn on the television to see the passion and excitement found within our teenage generation. They desire to fit in and feel important.

The main purpose of youth ministry is to see students connect into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must desire to walk alongside students as they go from where they currently are to where God is calling them! It begins with first time guests and continues on even after graduation. Student follow-up is a leadership wide responsibility through formed relationships, and must not be something that any one person can do.

Too often, I have seen students fall through the cracks of church because of the lack of connection. There is nobody present to reach out to them, to follow up with them, or to pray for them. Students also want to be challenged in ways that will push their limits. Today’s teenagers want to be invited to more than a pizza party with loud music and crazy games. They want to be empowered to change their culture, their schools, and even their own families. I have seen more students share Christ with their unsaved parents over the past two years than I can ever remember!

The vision behind seeing students connected goes way beyond the moment of salvation or the rising up out of the waters of baptism. What are we connecting and inviting our students to be a part of, even after they accept Christ? Are we seeing growth occur within each student that walks through our doors? Do new students not only feel welcome, but also desire to come back the following week? Are your students serving and even leading the charge in specific areas of ministry? What is it like to attend your youth service for the very first time?

Connecting a student to Christ begins the moment they step onto your campus – whether it is their very first time or they were born in your church. Do you have students and leaders greeting everyone as they pour onto your campus for youth night? Meeting new students is extremely important, but we cannot miss the significance behind welcoming a familiar face! Our leadership teams must be relationally intentional when it comes to greeting. That first impression may help determine whether or not your students will listen or tune you out during worship, message, and small groups.

Make your first impressions area visible. Students are already confused about enough in life, they shouldn’t have to be confused as to where to go once they arrive. Use signage, tables, music, lights, and most importantly – people! Designate students and adult leaders who are specifically there to help greet every one as they come on campus. Have information ready to go for all of your leaders as soon as they arrive. Utilize connect cards for new guests, and I highly recommend nametags for all students and leaders! Most importantly – have fun and be intentional with your first impressions team! Students should walk away from check-in feeling excited and important, and ultimately sensing a connection to something greater!

As your time with your students goes on, every leader must be relationally intentional. Students want relationships – they want to be talked to, not talked at. They want to be communicated with, not ignored. Even the most shy, timid, or introverted teenager you may meet desires to be a part of incredible relationships. What are your leaders doing to meet and greet all students? Is there a time to hang out and socialize before your service? I know students also create uniformity with friends. In other words, they often flock to the same people. Some youth pastors call them clicks, but I refer to it as a natural human tendency. I have my closest friends, and honestly I am comfortable hanging out with them any day of the week. There are other friends who know I have to work much harder at developing my relationship with them. It is completely natural for us to feel more comfortable around some people over others.

When it comes to students, clicks and popularity contests can destroy ministries. As leaders, we must create a culture in which all are invited, all are welcomed, and all are wanted. Our students want to fit in – even if their best friends are not present. Are we creating a welcoming culture that carries over into the atmosphere of our youth ministry?

Once our service begins, the connection process cannot end. I have talked to many leaders who think the goal is only to get students in the door. While I see where they are coming from, the goal must be to connect them to Jesus, not simply get them in the door! I know, I know… some of you are saying, ‘Well in order to get them connected to Jesus, we must first get them in the door.’  I get that, but our goal is not to see how many students we can get to show up to our youth service. Instead, our goal is to see students encounter Jesus Christ!

Utilize every aspect of your service to connect students. Is your time of worship exciting and interactive? Are your announcements and welcome full of energy and memorable? Is the message challenging, applicable, and thought-provoking? Do your small group leaders sincerely care about their students? If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to seriously revisit that specific area! The way you organize your youth service is key to seeing students connecting!

Our responsibility definitely does not end once students leave our campus! I tell my core leaders that youth ministry is a 24-hour responsibility. In other words, tragedy can strike at any minute of any day! Students want to feel welcomed to your ministry outside of your designated service time. Whether it is through social media, text messaging, email, or a phone call, it is extremely important to connect with students over the course of the week. Never underestimate the power of unexpected connections! Set the leaders’ expectations high – encouraging them to reach out to the students within their small group on a weekly basis. Personally follow up with every new student that walks onto your campus! I know this takes time, energy, and resources, but I can say from experience that students feel important when they are contacted and connected! And when students feel important they come back! Very few students accept Christ the first time they walk in the doors of a church, but who knows how God will work if they continue to come back week after week!

Do not stop at connecting your students to your weekly service! Challenge them as you connect them. Encourage them to create paths of spiritual growth – whether it is through a mentor, a discipleship process, or community groups. There were times that Jesus looked at the large crowds said, ‘You don’t get it… Spiritual growth is not solely about the large group setting! More importantly, it is about your daily routine to become more like Me!’

We are called to walk through life with our students in a way that brings honor and glory to Jesus! When we accomplish this we will see growth in ways we could never imagine! Connect your students to Christ through discipleship, leadership opportunities, and missional involvement. Make a way for your students to use their God-given abilities and talents. Allow your students to partner with mission organizations and individual families, empowering them to share Christ’s love and compassion with our lost and broken world.

So many of the students I come in contact with are broken, lost, and walking through life alone. Yet, they have the desire to fit in and experience a connection that goes beyond their own ability. We have the greatest connecting message this world has ever witnessed – the love and hope of Jesus Christ! Our responsibility is to create a path that connects our students to the Gospel message! But we cannot stop there! Today’s teenagers are culture changers. They are filled with an unbelievable passion for a cause greater than themselves. Challenge your students, empower your students, stir a passion for life-change within your students, and ultimately connect them to the greatest Person to ever live – Jesus Christ!

I would love to hear how you are practically connecting your students into a deeper walk with Christ! Within our student ministry, we have created an entire Connections Team made up of a Connections Coordinator, Small Group Hosts, Spiritual Formation Coordinator, and Student Vitals Host. I am more than willing to share further, how we have practically laid out our Connections Team. Feel free to contact me with any further questions.

Most Important Youth Ministry Documents

important-documents-after-short-sale-As I sat in a meeting yesterday, I realized how much of a document person I am.  I have an excel spreadsheet or a word document for everything I have done over the past 10 years!  Whether it is our retreats, trips, training events, or weekly student ministry meetings – you name it and I have a document for it.

It got me thinking – what are some of the most important documents I have?  How often to I refer to them?  Am I praying through them on a regular basis?

Every youth pastor wants to experience fruit.  We want to see growth take place – at a spiritual and numerical level.  For whatever reason we often struggle understanding how to strategize for growth.  In other words, we want it, but don’t know how to get it.

I want to share six of the most important youth ministry documents that I have seen utilized to assist in an overall growth strategy.  Each document has been prayed over, prayed through, and prayed around – in other words, prayer is extremely important when solidifying growth strategy documents for Youth Ministry.

Organizational Chart – Whether you use Mindnode, Creately, a Word document, or old-fashioned paper and pen, it is extremely important to put your Youth Ministry organizational chart on paper.  It doesn’t matter if your ministry has 20 students or 2000 students, we need to be able to see where the gaps and holes are within our leadership teams.  An org chart will also give us the ability to see vision and dream big in regards to where we would like our leadership teams to be!

Mission Statement & Core Values – What one statement defines why you do what you do?  What do you value and what is important to your ministry?  One day I will write a blog on the purpose of youth ministry.  In other words, why do we do what we do?  I believe that can be clearly answered through a mission statement and core values. Our mission statement is  “Empowering students of Cape Coral to live out a deeper relationship with Christ through discipleship, leadership, and missional involvement.”  Everything we do flows out of this – whether it is a youth service, event, trip, or small group.  It is important to also develop leadership teams around you that can hold you accountable to your mission statement and core values!

Vision Statement – The type of vision statement I am referring to is much different from a mission statement.  It is the vehicle that drives your mission statement.  Your vision is the practical layout of your ministry.  As we strive for growth, we must develop a plan for growth – how are we going to get to where God is taking us?  What events, services, and areas are we going to focus on in order to achieve the growth God desires of us?

A little over 2 years ago we created our Vision 500 Strategy.  It was easy to explain – what practical steps do we need to put in place to establish a youth ministry of 500 students?  It was a three-phase strategy that lasts three years from start to finish.  Our focus was on campus ministry & outreach, small group & community, and leadership development.  While I am not going to say we have stuck to it completely, we have seen incredible growth as we have kept our focus on achieving the growth God has for us.  It is amazing to see our ministry directed by clear vision established by an incredible leadership team!

I would always recommend creating a vision statement that covers at least a 12-18 month time period.  It is important to know how you are going to get to where God is taking you!  Don’t feel overwhelmed or confused if you are lost in the vision process.  Pray and ask God clearly what He has for you and your ministry.  Form a Core Vision Team that helps you establish clarity and direction.  Seek the counsel of the leaders, students, and families God has placed around you.  Finally, lay it out on paper and clearly communicate it with those connected to your ministry!

Leadership Development Plan – What are you doing to develop the leaders God has placed alongside you?  So many youth ministries have hidden all-star leaders that are not being used to their fullest capabilities.  We not only struggle identifying these leaders, but we struggle empowering them to take on responsibilities within ministry.  Are you inviting them to an exciting leadership opportunity, while challenging them to become more like Christ everyday?  Our leadership development plan includes a leadership pipeline and clear responsibilities for each position.  It gives room for growth for all of our leaders, while laying out clear expectations and guidelines for each of them.

Leadership training is vital for all areas of ministry!  This must not be a time to only share your ministry calendar with your leaders, but instead, a time to challenge them spiritually and empower them to do more.  Very rarely have I had a leader tell me no in regards to stepping up in leadership.  On the other hand, I have heard countless stories of individuals being held back from leading because of a lack of empowerment and direction.

Discipleship Strategy – What are you doing to develop disciples who are developing disciples?  Jesus clearly laid out the vision for the church in Matthew 28.  He did not call us to make Christians; He called us to make disciples!  I know that sounds bold, but to me it is truth.  What objectives, goals, and strategies have you put in place to see a culture of discipleship established within your ministry?

We recently began working with 3DM, an incredible discipleship organization that helps churches create a culture of discipleship.  They help ministries establish a language that speaks to the importance of spiritual growth.  We have begun implementing it into the life of our student ministry.  Another great resource is Duffy Robbins book, Building a Youth Ministry that Builds Disciples.  It radically changed my mindset in regards to discipleship within the context of student ministry.  We cannot miss our calling and God-given purpose as ministry leaders!

Connections Commitment – How are you connecting your students into a deeper relationship with Christ, while also connecting them into community?  Students desire to feel connected.  Whether it is to a team, a musician, or a youth ministry, middle and high school students want to feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves! We recently launched our Connections Team, whose goal is to connect every student to a mentor, a small group leader, a leadership opportunity, and ultimately a deeper relationship with Christ.

It begins with new student follow-up and continues with connections into small groups, ministry opportunities, and discipleship.  We encourage all of our small group leaders to commit at least 45 minutes a week outside of our services in which they are communicating with students.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to help our students experience a deeper relationship with Christ!  We have seen incredible growth through the implementation of these 6 documents.  While it has given us clear vision and direction, the most important part of every one of these documents is the time spent in prayer.  Anybody can fill out an organizational chart or create a vision statement for their ministry, but when we follow God’s leading – He will fill us with exactly what we need to see the growth that can only happen through His hand!

I would love to hear your feedback in regards to the most important documents within your ministry.  I am more than happy to share any of the documents we currently have.  Feel free to contact me and I can email them to you!