Effective youth ministry can be compared to an iceberg–there is much more beneath the surface than is seen with the eye. An iceberg is a massive thing, yet only 1/10 of the total mass of an iceberg is above water. When people look at a ministry, they typically see what’s above the water line.  It’s what happens under the surface, however, that determines the health of a ministry–or to put it another way, it takes a team to build a great ministry. Early in ministry I learned that a healthy, connected team of adults is essential to building a great ministry.  That means many things, but at a minimum, it means spending the time building a sense of team. How can you tell if a team is connected of disconnected (or even a church for that matter)?  Teams that are disconnected display the following traits:
  • Interactions have a high degree of formality and politeness.
  • Disagreements are rarely raised.
  • Team meetings are quiet and interactions seem uncomfortable.
  • Attendance at meetings is inconsistent and sporadic.
The marks of a connected team?
  • Team members demonstrate a high degree of informality when interacting, able to kid around and make jokes with each other.
  • Team members feel comfortable being noisy and random.
  • Disagreements are voiced in a nondefense manner.
  • Team members like spending time with each other outside meetings.
  • Attendance is consistent because the fellowship is just too good to miss.
Oh – one more question you might ask, and it’s true for a church or ministry group:  How long do people stay around when it’s over?  The longer people stay, the healthier the culture. As I shared in last week’s blog, the most important thing you can do for your youth is minister to your adult leaders. dbministrycoach.com will be glad to come to your congregation and do a volunteer worship to help you build a more effective and connected team.  Contact us on our web site and we can discuss a weekend event.

In preparing to launch dbministrycoach.com, I asked scores of youth leaders this question:  “In what area of ministry do you struggle most?”  The overwhelming response?   “How do I build an effective volunteer team to minister to our students?” While the answer to that question requires a longer conversation, here’s a principle that will help:  The health of a youth group will be in direct proportion to the health of the volunteer team. I remember attending a workshop early in ministry that focused on building a sense of community within the adult leadership core.  The following principles stayed with me through the years:
  1. Working with volunteers is more than just assigning and completing tasks.  People don’t join a ministry just to do leadership tasks.  They want to be cared for, they want to have friends, and they want to have fun too.
  2. A leader must become a shepherd to the team (which is much more rewarding than simply doing signup sheets and completing tasks). Pour yourself into the lives of the people with whom you serve.  Then, even if volunteers get tired of doing the task, they will not quit the team because the fellowship is just too good.  When you meet, take time to minister to your team.  If a volunteer leaves a meeting and they’ve done the task, but you don’t know if a team member’s mother just found out she has cancer, you have not ministered to your team.
  3. Teams that are not run well will go through some of the finest people, and leaders will scratch their head and say, “I don’t understand what happened.” Your volunteer did the task, but there was no sense of family connectivity.
So remember that the most important thing you can do for your youth, is minister to your adult team.  As the team goes, so goes the youth group!  Your most important job is to create the right culture! If you would like a longer conversation about your ministry, go to our web site and check out the Youth Ministry Assessment Tool.  It takes 10 minutes.  Ministry Coach will give you a call to share the results and listen to how we can use our experience to help you build a more effective youth ministry culture!

There are observable signs of congregational regression. According to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve, leaders of a congregation in decline will often look for a “quick fix” and will concentrate their focus on data and numbers, programs and techniques rather than on emotional processes and the leader’s own self. The end result:  the more the congregation advances in one area, the more it will regress in another.  According to Friedman, “The focus on data and technique is itself a characteristic of emotional regression:  namely, avoidance or denial of the fact that it is happening” (55). This may involve a strong determination to highlight numbers as a show of success:  numbers in attendance and “preacher counts” at activities.  The numbers game is often an attempt at self-validation for ministers. In a state of regression, leaders will often look for reasons to justify to themselves and the congregation as to why people are leaving.  It is not uncommon for leaders to attempt to appease their anxiety by negatively labeling those who leave. So here’s a suggestion:  instead of labeling and looking for causes “out there” and “with people,” wouldn’t it be much better to look inward and be honest about the role we are likely playing in the exodus of members? My dad related a story once in which the preacher called a meeting of members and asked, “What do we need to do to make the church grow?”  My father said, “I appreciate what he was trying to accomplish, but wouldn’t a much better question be, ‘What are we doing that is preventing the church from growing?’” In my view, that’s a better way forward. Effective leaders shine the light on themselves instead of others.  They fail to create false narratives. They say accurately and honestly, “How can the reversal of negative trends begin with me?”