You know the urge. You look around the youth room, your program, or even the team and think – I really need to make changes. But should you? How do you properly time change in ministry?
A Change of Photos
When I started in my position, nearly four years ago, I remember walking into the youth room. One of the first things I saw was a bulletin board covered in photos of kids I didn’t know. There were photos from mission trips from years prior, photos of boat trips and trips to Disney and local water parks. The faces smiling back at me were kids long aged out of the youth program.
Immediately, I saw a change in ministry that I needed to make.
I knew to help move things forward, this board (or at least the photos) would have to come down. I also knew I needed to be careful.
While those pictures may have been dated by a few years, one young person’s face in those photos was still active within the youth ministry. I knew he’d had a strong connection with the previous Youth Minister, and I didn’t want to do anything to fracture that connection.
Those were some of his memories on that board. So, I left it alone for about a year.
When I felt the time was right, I asked the young person for his blessing in taking the photos down. I asked him to help me, allowed him to look through the photos and keep the ones he wanted. The rest we put into box and stored in a closet in the youth room.
It was a minor change. But it was a step toward making the youth room a space belonging to the current group. It gave us a chance to begin making our own memories to display.
So, when is it okay to make changes (big or small) in a youth ministry?
If you are just getting started in a new ministry, it can be easy to start making changes immediately. I would caution against this, for at least six months – maybe even a year.
Giving yourself, and the youth group, that time to grow relationally is critical. It gives you time to get a feel for the ministry and to build relationships with young people and adults.
Allow the young people, the volunteers, and parents involved in the ministry to share their hearts.
Let them share what has worked well in the past (along with why they think it worked well). And let them share stories of things that maybe haven’t worked well. This can be a great time for them to share their thoughts on what changes they’d like to see.
Your Vision For Changes
You can also take this time to share ideas for things you would like to do – whether it’s introducing a new program, a new lesson, or maybe it’s getting rid of an old program.
The key is to allow for open communication for those potentially impacted by the change.
When to Make Immediate Changes
Sometimes, though, waiting isn’t the best option. And sometimes the changes we need to make aren’t major. Sometimes the change needs to be an internal one.
I tend to teach by the Socratic Method. I present a topic, have teens share in reading Scripture, and lead their discussion by asking questions.
Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I’ve learned that by changing the way I present a lesson can make a drastic difference in how the teens respond. If discussion isn’t flowing, maybe I try lecturing for a time. Or maybe we try a video series for a few weeks. Or maybe we skip the lesson altogether and just spend time together.
Sometimes the change has to be an internal one – an acceptance that, as the Youth Minister, we don’t always get it right.
We have to be willing to be flexible and adapt to the immediate needs of our teens.
Changing Sunday School
Let’s face it, we’ve all been faced with the issue of change within our ministries. Sometimes the changes are big. Sometimes they’re small.
One change I made within my own ministry was to do away with Sunday school. It was a major change I made about a year after my hire.
I’d just read Sticky Faith and felt a connection to the suggestion within the pages. But the ultimate reason was to better allow my youth to be present during worship.
Sunday school took place during the 9:30 worship service. Young people would come to church with their families; their parents would attend worship while we left the church building to go to our youth room. We’d spend 45 minutes chatting, sometimes struggling through a lesson, and then try to make it back to the worship service in time for communion.
The teens would then leave church with their families, sometimes never engaging with the broader church community.
I felt like the young people were isolated. Adults in the church didn’t see the teens regularly, and the young people did little to interact with the broader congregation. So, I made a change.
Primary Purpose of Change
Change within a ministry program should always be about fostering relationships. Priority should always be given to fostering the teens’ relationship with God.
Is the change allowing for growth? Will this change help young people to experience God in a new and personal way? Is the change fostering relationships within the broader church community? Are teens being engaged and challenged in their faith by others outside their immediate church circles?
If I can answer yes to these questions, I feel like the youth ministry is headed in the right direction. If not, well then maybe there’s a change in the making.
Sarah Taylor has been the youth director at Gulf Cove United Methodist Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, since 2017. She has a Master’s Degree in Youth Ministry from Wesley Seminary as well as a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She loves books and writing, has a borderline obsession with Harry Potter and Gilmore Girls, and loves Cherry Pepsi. She lives in North Port, Florida, with her 14-year-old cat, Milo.