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I served as a student leader in youth ministry for 3 years, went to college to study youth ministry for a 4-year degree, and then had the pleasure of serving as a Student Ministries Pastor in a youth ministry setting for 4 years. With over 10 years of youth ministry experience, I’ve been able to take note on what makes great youth ministries successful.

Likewise, youth pastors, youth workers, and youth leaders (whatever title they go by at your local church) have a heart for discipleship and students. However, that doesn’t always translate to building a thriving youth group which is equipping young adults to reach their homes, high schools, and small groups for Jesus Christ.

In this article, I am going to break down what we mean by “youth ministry,” what youth ministry leaders typically do, outline the core components of a healthy and sustainable youth ministry, and dive into how to build a youth ministry for whatever stage you are at.

What Is Youth Ministry?

youth ministry definition
Here's a simple definition for youth ministry.

According to LeaderTreks, a youth ministry resource I have used personally throughout my career, defines youth ministry as a way to create meaningful relationships between adult Christian leaders and students for the purpose of helping those students grow in their relationship with God.

At its heart, youth ministry isn’t about a Bible study or devotionals with teenagers or throwing together killer Wednesday night youth groups. The heart of youth ministry is building meaningful relationships with students and helping them become faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

How church leaders tackle the task of building these meaningful relationships in youth ministry is a different question altogether. So, let’s start by defining what a youth minister or youth leader does in order to facilitate the building of a youth group. 

What Does A Youth Minister Do?

A youth minister facilitates worship services for teenagers, organizes Sunday School curriculum, posts on social media, and occasionally creates some outreach and evangelism opportunities for students to participate in. 

However, in youth ministry, it’s difficult to know what tasks a youth minister might need to perform to make their youth ministry a success.

If you look at youth pastor job descriptions like the ones on Betterteam or Grow Curriculum, then you’ll notice that some church leaders think a youth minister is supposed to simply develop youth ministry curriculum and fun events for students. Scripture tells us that the role of pastoring is more than Sunday School lessons and mission trips, though.

According to 1 Timothy 4:12, the youth minister’s primary role is to connect young disciples in our churches with spiritually mature adults who can mentor them into faithful followers of Jesus Christ. When a mentor relationship is established, students have the opportunity to grow into spiritually mature adults who can continue this cycle of discipleship.

Tackling this goal includes figuring what works for your denomination and your specific church. The below list covers a variety of responsibilities that a youth minister might take on in order to accomplish this task:

  • Organizing worship services for students in some form or fashion
  • Planning mission trips, volunteer opportunities, and small groups to encourage growth in discipleship for students
  • Connect congregations with the students in their midst to form mentoring relationships that will last outside of Sunday School or small groups
  • Participating in outreach and evangelism events to bring more students in the fold and build relationships with young people who might not be directly invested in their youth ministry
  • And, of course, cultivate events that are fun, engaging, and are more likely to grow friendships, relationships, and mentorships among young adults and mature, Christian church leaders
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7 Components Of Youth Ministry

This brings us to the central question: what makes a youth ministry great?

Generally speaking, there are 7 components of youth ministries that are growing, thriving, or multiplying:

  • Advocacy
  • Community
  • Pastoral care
  • Discipleship
  • Service
  • Leadership
  • Prayer and worship

Making each of these components central to your youth ministry will go a long way to creating a youth group that is more than a small group, more than baby-sitting-for-teenagers, and even more than an extracurricular activity. Utilizing these core components will build a youth church, not just a youth group.

1. Advocacy

Leaders in youth ministry are in a unique place to be able to advocate for the needs of their students, bridging the gap between home, church, and extracurricular activities. 

The most successful youth ministries are the ones that take this place of honor seriously by standing up for their students, their needs, and their hopes and dreams.

2. Community

This goes without saying, but a youth ministry isn’t simply a small group. A great youth ministry is a church within a church, it is a community who belong together, live together, and work together for the Kingdom. Don’t stop at meeting on Wednesday nights, but find ways to connect intentionally and often.

3. Pastoral Care

The best youth ministries don’t stop teaching at Sunday School and midweek worship services. Pastoral care means checking in with students and making sure they are spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for faithfully following Jesus Christ. 

As youth ministers and youth leaders, this means taking a vested interest in the lives of your students.

4. Discipleship

As discussed earlier, creating mentoring relationships between congregations and their students is one of the most core components of youth ministries that are successful. 

Training up students with spiritual role models they can bounce ideas off of, seek advice from, and that is willing to listen to them is critical for these students to be spiritually mature.

5. Service

Part of being spiritually mature means seeking to serve others with the love of Christ. Youth ministers must intentionally seek out opportunities for students to learn that following Jesus means serving others joyfully. Youth leaders, find creative ways to plug students into every volunteer team at your church as well as regular service opportunities outside of your church.

6. Leadership

Part of being mentored and engaging in meaningful relationships is growing so that you can then mentor and engage with others. 

This cycle of discipleship also means training students how to duplicate what has been done in their life in the lives of others. The best youth ministries carefully consider how to help students mentor younger students, even in small, simple ways.

7. Prayer and Worship

While this is the final component, it is by no means the least important one. Making prayer and worship a core component of your youth ministry will serve your young people for the rest of their lives. Invite prayer, train students up in leading worship, and never pass up an opportunity to pray with, for, and over your leaders and students.

How To Build A Youth Ministry

Building a youth ministry with these 7 components of youth ministry in mind doesn’t have to be difficult. In general, all you have to do is gather and invest.

Gather your students, whether you are starting from scratch or already have a group of involved students, and find a way to engage with them. It’s important to remember that they have dozens of activities trying to fight for their attention and even more voices telling them what is important and what isn’t. You have to find a way to meet them where they are in the midst of the chaos.

Invest in your youth ministry by focusing on the students you currently have. Spend more time helping them discover who they are in Christ, what podcasts they like, and what they hope to do when they grow up. Then help them reach for those goals while encouraging them with the love of Jesus through the ups and downs.

If you can find ways to gather your youth ministry and meet kids where they are at in life and then invest in their lives, then the youth ministry will grow. How you accomplish those two goals are entirely up to you, your area, and your students. However, we have a great article for you if you want to know more about how to build a youth group.

Move Beyond FAQs For Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry is more than answering having youth ministry info on your website, talking at them for 20 minutes on a school night, and then posting about it on whatever social media is popular with your students at the time. It’s about building meaningful relationships to improve the lives of your congregation as well as your students.

If you want to move beyond simple FAQs for youth ministry, then make sure to sign up for The Lead Pastor newsletter and get all of your youth ministry questions answered!

By Dylan Miller

Dylan Scott Miller grew up in Southern Indiana surrounded by family who faithfully followed Jesus to the best of their abilities. But it wasn’t until high school that Dylan decided to “All In” and then began studying and preparing for youth ministry. Dylan graduated with a Bachelor’s in Youth Ministry and minored in Biblical Languages, and has served in both paid and volunteer roles for organizations like Youth Ministry Booster, National Network of Youth Ministries, and even as a Student Ministries Pastor for 4 years in a local church in Columbus, Ohio.