So many times, ministers don't want to deal with the struggles of a "traditional" church underneath the leadership of pastor Fred and the deacons. Many ministers feel stuck and stagnant in some churches, and so the solution is to let a plateaued church die and plant a new one without all the perceived "hinderances" that come from a traditional church. I hear the phrase all the time from aspiring church planters, many that I went to seminary with, "it's easier to give birth than raise the dead," but doesn't this fly in the face of our God, who by his own design is in the business of bringing the dead to life?
First, I realize that church planting is perceived as easy, when assuredly it is not. Second, church planting is most likely easier than church revitalization. What I am concerned with is that a minister chooses to be a church planter because he wants the easy way that is within his means. However, I believe that faith requires me to trust in something that only God can do - resurrect the dead. I want to see dead churches reimagined and "replanted" to become vibrant, life giving faith communities.
There are many ways that churches attempt to do this. Sometimes they feel like if they hire a young, trendy worship guy who revolutionizes the music ministry, then young people will come as if Sunday Morning Worship is the new Woodstock for Christian hipsters. Other times as church will hire some young guy with young kids, hoping this will draw in more young families with children, but I say that men will only be drawn to one man - Jesus not a young minister. There are many more ways in which churches attempt to revitalize itself, but I believe Jesus has a much easier plan.
I believe that the children's ministry and the youth ministry are the key to church revitalization. First, a church must recognize that revitalization is a process that will take a long time, and the larger the ship, the longer it will take to set a new course and make the turn. Ask yourself where does the church need to be in ten to fifteen years, because the leaders of that age are in the youth group. Second, church revitalization does not mean energy alone. Because a good ministry takes both wisdom and energy. This is why a church needs both youth and senior adults. Senior Adults who have money and wisdom, and youth who lack these traits but have time and energy. These two ministries are the two parts of a whole. Median aged adults who have young to teenage children have little of all the above because of the demands of that stage of life. In many plateaued churches they have senior adults, and some median adults, but little youth. So they lack the final element.
This then begs the question. How do you fill the gaping hole of youth and then implement them, and as a disclaimer this little blog post will not fully answer this question, but is designed to get readers thinking. An easy way to kill a youth group and render it ineffective in the integration of its youth into adulthood in the church is to build the ministry on games, food, and excitement. This will only provide immature adults who are not ready to accept the mantle of church leadership. Thus, the senior adults will not trust these young people, will keep the mantle, and the young adults will leave the church out of frustration, because it offers nothing for them.
The proper way to prepare students for this is through biblical preparation. They need to become leaders in the youth group who are capable of accepting the mantle of church leadership one day. I use what I call the 3 Marks of Ministry: Maturity, Mission, and Multiply. To accomplish Maturity I have implemented the Navigator's hand Illustration - Hear the Word, Read the Word, Study the Word, Memorize the Word, and Meditate on the Word - to give students the proper means to grow in their faith. Then they evangelize, plant ministries, and discover God's design for their life in mission, and use their spiritual maturity, gifts, talents, and missions to multiply the church. As students grow they will become quality leaders, and quality should always precede quantity. Then, as they accept the mantle of church leadership they will begin to enact these same principles into the church as a whole. Slowly but surely, the church will be revitalized.
To me this is the ultimate goal of all youth ministry, and the growth of the church as a whole is dependent upon what happens in the student ministry. The reason many youth ministers don't think of this, is because they never ask the question why youth ministry exists?
Pitfalls for youth ministers:
- Do not get frustrated with the church and senior adults. Frustration is a sign of impatience. Church revitalization is a long process that will not happen quickly.
- Be committed. Nothing can be accomplished in church revitalization short of 4-6 years. 10 is a better time span. Rome wasn't built in a day after all, and you need to be patient and wait.
- Your plan is always second to the pastor's. No matter what you are not the pastor, nor does the burden rest on you. You need to respect the anointed leader of your church and seek to serve him. He wants to see the church revitalized as badly as you more often than not.
- Be organized. No youth ministry program that is unstructured will succeed. This is a game of strategy, and you should have a war room. Make sure that what you are doing is wise and well timed.
- Don't do this alone. The other ministers at your church are your first line of support because of their wisdom and experience, especially if you are a young minister. Also, bring the parents in with your plans. It is important that you have many quality counselors in your ministry. No one goes to war without consulting his officers.