Is your youth ministry focus too narrow? Maybe you intentionally present the gospel to lost teens personally and at outreach events. Perhaps you have small group bible studies to engage teens in God’s Word. And you encourage your volunteer leaders to disciple young people. But your discipleship strategy should include more than just the arena of teenagers in a youth group.
The arenas of youth ministry are the domains in which youth leaders operate. Think of the arenas in terms of time spent doing something. For most of the history of youth ministry the sole arena has been working with teenagers. Working solely with teenagers is the arena most commonly referred to when we think about youth ministry. After all, it is ministry to youth. In many cases, the reason someone chooses to work in youth ministry is because they love young people and want to see them come to Christ and grow as believers. However, investing solely in youth programs is not enough. The traditional youth ministry model is over fifty years old and designed for a culture that no longer exists. A new approach to youth ministry is needed that focuses not only on students in a youth group, but also families and the church congregation.
Expanding the arenas of youth ministry to more than just time with students is imperative. Most notably, the arena of focus in recent years has been parent/family ministry. The single most important influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents. Therefore youth leaders must spend time intentionally developing relationships with parents. Some youth leaders will argue that family ministry is someone else’s job. But I believe that youth ministers are uniquely positioned to influence parents. Youth leaders can equip parents for effective discipleship and help them model faith for teenagers. The result is a deeper and broader perspective on what it means to be in youth ministry.
In addition to the parent/family arena, some are calling for a third arena—the congregation. This arena involves time spent developing ways to help teenagers fully engage in the overall life of the church. Youth leaders typically do an excellent job helping young people fall in love with the youth group, but not necessarily the church. But to build a faith that lasts a lifetime our teenagers need to learn to value the church as vital to their Christian walk. In our research, ministry service in the church was the number one way youth leaders helped teens connect to the congregation.
So what should your expanded view of youth ministry look like? In the arena of teenagers in the youth group, focus on moving students from spiritually lifeless to fruitful. In the arena of teenagers in families, guide parents from spiritual wanderers to leaders. In the arena of teenagers in the congregation, move students from consumers to contributors. For a more detailed overview of the arenas of youth ministry, visit ymarenas.com. You can take a free assessment and then download a free 17-page report with suggestions on improving your discipleship strategy.
David Odom, Ph.D is Associate Professor of Student Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Director of the Youth Ministry Institute. He holds a B.A. from Liberty University along with an MARE and Ph.D. from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before joining faculty, Dr. Odom served as Youth Minister in churches in Texas and Alabama. He has a heart for young people and training the next generation of youth leaders.