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Engaging Your First Students

[This is the fourth post in our series on Building a Youth Ministry from Scratch]

Most of the time when you build a youth ministry from scratch, you already have a few students. Maybe four or five, but still. They’re there. They are your starting point. Engaging your first students is crucial to the success of your ministry.

Your first practical step is to sit down with them and get to know them. Building relationships with these first few will be the first crucial building block in expanding the ministry. So get to know them. Hang out, share a few meals, invest time and energy into building trust. Depending on how well they already know you and how open they are to you and the ministry, this may take a while. But remember that time invested in relationships with students is time well spent, even if it doesn’t always feel and look ‘productive’.

Once there’s a certain level of trust and you feel like you have built enough of a relationship, it’s time to start asking questions. Where are they in their faith? What would they need to grow? What would they like in a ministry? Some of these questions you can ask the students literally, others are questions you ask yourself and try to find answers to.

Your first steps in the new youth group will have to match these students’ needs, even if they may not accurately formulate them, or even recognize them. You need to try and assess their spiritual situation and go from there. Because if there’s no match, you’ll lose these students from the get go. And if you lose them, you’re fighting an uphill battle

Let’s make this clear with an example. Let’s say you have five students and three of them say they have accepted Christ, but you don’t see much evidence of that in their daily lives. The other two are kinda interested, but definitely haven’t made a choice for Jesus yet. Where do you start?

Where you don’t start, is with all-out two-hour long intensive Bible studies. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Bible isn’t important, because it is. A ministry without God’s Word is a dead ministry. There are various levels of intensity however.

As a teen, I attended a summer camp once that focused on Nehemiah. I was already a Christian then and pretty serious in my walk with Christ, so the long Bible studies with tons of details didn’t bother me. As a matter of fact, I found it all quite fascinating—but then again I was someone who loved to learn anyways. I studied history in college, so go figure!

But my friends were bored to the max. That’s because they weren’t interested in this at all, aside from the fact that they didn’t have a clue what the Bible teacher was talking about anyways. They lacked the basic knowledge to ‘anchor’ what he was saying.

Start where your students are at, in this case young Christians and interested unbelievers. With an audience like that, I’d do a discipleship focus, for instance with short messages from the Gospels. Above all, I’d focus on Jesus, so they could get to know Him better.

If you’re starting out in a youth ministry: where are your students right now spiritually? What would they need to take the next step in their journey with Christ?

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