Five Things that Every Youth Worker Might Not Be Doing But Should


by Chris Cox, 1twentyone Ministries, 2001/2013 graduate of CCU.

Over the past 12 years of being in student ministry, I have realized that there are a lot of ways to get students to show up, but most of them don’t build the kingdom that Jesus taught about. Here are 5 things I’ve learned that should be the core of our influence in the lives of the next generation.

1. Make prayer more experiential than music.

Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples after the last supper….then he spent the night praying. If the “10,000 hour theory” made popular in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is anywhere close to accurate, that 10,000 hours of practice makes one an “expert”, the next generation Christian is going to be an expert in singing songs about Jesus years before they are an expert at praying with Jesus. Our conferences, youth group gatherings and church services are saturated with great music. The level and emphasis on music as an avenue of worship may not need toned down in our student ministries, but instead we could challenge ourselves to make prayer more engaging than our music.

2. Make it student-led, no matter how much it slows you down.
This generation will only reach their full potential when the generations ahead of them make them earn their voice in leadership. Most students have been told since they were born that their voice matters and that they are more resourced than any generation before them. They get that. What they don’t get is HOW to lead. This happens over time through apprenticeship. Jesus took some sub-par fishermen and mentored them even when they didn’t get it. In Luke 10 he sends the 72 out right after the 12 were fighting about who was the greatest in the Kingdom, why others should have the power they have, and why they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a city that wouldn’t give them a place to stay! They didn’t get it, but He put the Kingdom in their hands anyway. He let them practice, try, fail, and eventually they succeeded. Next-generation student ministries will have student leadership at their core.

3. Be Missional.
Missional is about “alerting the world that the Kingdom of God has drawn near” (Luke 10:9). Inviting students to be a part of something that is bigger than the context of their stories engages them in their purpose. Without missional invitations, student ministries become programs with “fans,” and critics being entertained by youth pastors and worship bands. Missional student ministries grow the Kingdom through the story that God writes in the redemption of the people they serve. Missional is not a service project, it is a way of life.

4.Spend time with parents.
Communicating with parents has made a dramatic improvement in student ministry over the past several years. Digital resources and movements in curriculum have helped make this possible. But this still isn’t enough. Invite families out to dinner. Teach students how to respect their parents by respecting their parents. Build relationships with them. Hear their hearts. Pray with them. Remind them that you are there for them. Tell them they are doing a good job. Get a voice with them.

5. Lead Followers, Not Fans.
Kyle Idleman recently wrote a book affirming this truth. Many youth leaders are dying on the vine trying to entertain the fans of Jesus. When we preach and teach the Word of God, the fans will go home and the followers will go deeper. Deepen the roots of your student ministry with the truth of God’s Word and He will draw a harvest to Himself.