Before beginning the initial stages of starting a youth group, the primary place to start is in covering your endeavors with prayer and placing them into God’s hands. Only after that can you begin the first step in starting a youth group: Identifying the youth that are already active in your local congregation. Who are they? What are their ages? Who are their friends? How have they connected to your church? Additionally, look at the youth in your local community: Where do they hang out? What are their interests? What are their needs? Once you become more familiar with the youth in your local context, you will be much better equipped to reach out to them as a youth leader.
The second step is to identify potential supporters for beginning a youth group. Who are the “champions” of young people in your church and in your community? Who are the “movers and shakers” that motivate people toward action? Think broadly when looking for potential supporters; this initial start-up team should include the lead pastor and other members of the pastoral team as well as members of the congregation including board members, parents of children and teens, young adults in your congregation, or older adults that see the need to pass on the legacy of Christ to the younger generations. In many cases, it would be helpful to include youth representatives themselves when beginning the planning for starting a youth group. Remember the NYI mission statement, “To call our generation to a dynamic life in Christ!” Potential youth group supporters could be anyone that believes in the necessity of that mission statement. These initial supporters could then form the core leadership team for the youth group. Connect with them, building relationships and creating a vision about the future of youth ministry in your local church and community.
Third, determine the logistics of the youth group. When will you begin meeting? Where will you be meeting? What will you do in your youth meetings? When will youth meetings occur? How often will they occur? Establish practical ways of reaching out to young people in your community and congregation that both capture their interests and meet their needs. (To read more about youth evangelism, click here! )
Finally, always keep in mind the purpose of the youth group—the “why” behind your strategy—to connect young people to Christ and guide them into growing, thriving relationships with God.
One of the most important first steps in starting a youth group is creating a leadership team. Choosing the right leadership team takes time and requires much prayer and patience.
The first people you might look to for leadership are those supporters or “champions” of youth in your congregation. Be sure not to mentally rule out people for leadership simply because they do not fit the “mold” for a typical youth leader. Be open minded when thinking about potential leaders, and do not discriminate based on age, gender or culture. No matter someone’s personality, education, experience, or background, there is most likely a place for them to serve in youth ministry. These potential youth leaders should exhibit Christ-likeness and be passionate and committed to the call to lead young people to Christ.
In addition to an adult leadership team, it is important to include the youth themselves on a youth group leadership team. Since the youth ministry is for them, it is important that they feel included on the decision-making and planning processes. Allowing young people to participate in leadership will give them a sense of ownership and belonging in the youth group. This will also equip them for leadership and ministry within the larger congregation.
Anyone on the youth leadership team – whether adults or students – should be in a thriving relationship with Christ and express the willingness to continue to grow as a Christian and as a leader. Any potential youth leaders should be faithful to Christ, available to mentor and be mentored, and have a teachable spirit and willingness to learn and grow. Be sure to have any potential volunteers complete a background check and ministry training as required by your local church and district.
Identifying and recruiting adults as volunteer youth leaders can be a challenge, but adult leadership is a necessary and vital component to any youth ministry. One of the best methods to identify potential youth volunteers is to ask the teens themselves! Who are the adults in your congregation that they look up to and respect? Who would they like to have as a mentor and leader? Armed with this list of names, you can then approach potential youth volunteer candidates by assuring them that they are liked and respected by the youth group.
There are many ways that an adult can volunteer with the youth ministry: from leading a small group or teaching a Sunday school class to chaperoning a youth trip or assisting with the Bible Quizzing ministry. Chances are, every adult volunteer will be able to connect to at least one area of responsibility where they would be a good fit. Any form of volunteer service—no matter how small—is important and beneficial to the youth group. Be sure to give potential volunteers the options of short, medium, or long-term periods of ministry service. Not everyone wants to volunteer to an indefinite length of time.
Allow adults interested in volunteering with the youth group to meet informally with the students and other adult volunteers before they commit to becoming a volunteer. This way, they can ask questions and hear of other’s experiences prior to making a commitment to the youth group.
Be sure to set clear role expectations for each adult volunteer. Be as detailed as possible in explaining what you expect from them. You may even consider developing ministry profiles for various volunteer positions that include a description of the role, necessary qualifications, accountability channels, and the goals and purposes for this particular position. Make sure that the volunteer completes all necessary paperwork and goes through any background screening processes that your local church or district requires for volunteers working with teens or children.
Finally, make a personal commitment to each adult volunteer in the group. They will look to you as a leader and mentor. Do your best to support them, encourage them, and equip and resource them for ministry. Let them know that you care for them and have their needs and interests in mind. Show that you trust them to engage in meaningful ministry among the youth.
Once you have recruited adult volunteers for the youth group, it is necessary to equip, train, and resource them for fruitful ministry. Often, adult volunteers are recruited for youth ministry, but they are not given any formal training or preparation. This can cause them to feel neglected or could lead to experience stress or burnout. Instead, empower them and give them the tools and confidence they need to succeed. Volunteer training also encourages ongoing leadership development and stimulates lifelong learning. Even experienced adult volunteers can benefit from most training.
It may be beneficial to offer specialized training based on the various volunteer youth ministry roles or positions that you have created: small group leader, Sunday school teacher, greeter/welcome committee, tech team, worship team, etc. Additionally, all youth volunteer training should include a component on children’s safety in ministry. We recommend Nazarene Safe training, available at www.nazarenesafe.org.
As you empower youth ministry volunteers, seek their input for the youth ministry vision and strategy. By connecting them to this vision, you allow them to take ownership of the ministry. Let them know that they have your full confidence, and consistently provide feedback and encouragement.
One of the most important tasks of the youth leader is to cast vision and create strategy for the youth ministry. Even when a youth ministry is successful or seems to be running smoothly, it is important to have a vision or strategy for youth ministry in your congregation. Developing a mission statement or purpose, setting up goals, and creating both short term and long term strategies will chart the course for youth ministry and can provide guidance for the future. Creating a youth ministry strategy may seem overwhelming, but it is as simple as asking, “Where do we want to go?” and “How do we get there?”
To develop a youth ministry strategy, first create a task force from among the adult volunteers, key student leaders, and other members of the congregation. This task force will evaluate the current youth ministry and make recommendations for youth ministry going forward.
Provide the task force with a list of questions to use in evaluating your church’s current ministries to youth. This list can include questions such as: “What are the current needs of youth in our church?” “What are the greatest needs of youth in our local community?” “How is our church currently addressing those needs?” “What will it take to be able to address those needs?” “What is God’s desire for this church’s ministry to youth?”
After evaluating the current youth ministry and brainstorming ways to improve this ministry, have the task force create tangible goals and strategies to meet the needs of youth in your church and community. Refine these goals as necessary and develop short and long-term implementation strategies. Revisit these goals whenever you need to refocus on the vision for youth ministry in your church.
Before sharing the gospel with youth, it is important to build relationships with them. One of the best ways to help young people live a dynamic life in Christ is through intentional and deep friendships. Creating a relationship built on love, honesty, and trust will eventually result in opportunities to share the Gospel of Christ with them. Remember that you are a living example of Christ for the young adults in your life; we must always take care to model the gospel in all areas of our life: in speech, in actions, in thought, and in love.
Be creative in reaching out to the youth in your community. Plan youth activities that meet their needs and capture their interest. These can include concerts, sports ministries, tutoring programs, meal services, drama and music, the Bible Quizzing ministry, or a variety of other outreach opportunities.
Over time, it is important to train the youth themselves on how to reach out to their peers and talk to them about their relationship with Jesus. Create space where teens feel comfortable sharing their testimony about how God has interacted with their lives. Often, teens will be the best missionaries to their own friends and peers.
At its root, discipleship is guiding others to become more like Christ in their own lives. While there are many ways discipleship can happen, usually they fall into two categories of discipleship: Informal Discipleship and Formal Discipleship.
Informal Discipleship is simply walking alongside teenagers as you model Christ to them in your daily life. In the words of Paul, they can imitate you as you imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Much growth can happen through unplanned conversations and spontaneous times of fellowship. Informal Discipleship happens as you spend time with teens, share in their joys and triumphs, listen to their concerns and struggles, and take a genuine interest in their life. Invite young people into your daily routines as you do life together. Be open about your own relationship with Jesus and how you are becoming more and more like Him.
Formal Discipleship includes a more established mentor/mentee relationship. Prayerfully identify which of the young people in your congregation the Lord is calling you to disciple. Invite your youth leaders to do the same. This Formal Discipleship process will most likely include set meeting times, a planned curriculum or guided study, and intentional involvement from both parties.
First, start by identifying those teens that exhibit leadership potential. These teenagers may be the natural leaders of the group, or they may be teens that have not yet been given a chance to lead. Pray that God would show you which teens are ready to be given a leadership role.
Once you have identified teens that show leadership potential, give them opportunities to lead. Model for them what it means to be a leader, and then allow them to act in a similar way. Start small by giving them low-risk areas of leadership, and slowly increase their levels of responsibility. Allow them to fail, but then encourage them and help them reflect on how they can do better next time. Once you have given a teen a leadership responsibility, release them to succeed and show them that they have your trust and support. It is important that the youth take ownership for their own activities, and allowing them leadership opportunities is a great way to create this sense of ownership.
Developing youth as leaders may eventually include forming a local NYI council. See below for instructions on how to form a local NYI council.
Ministering to parents of the youth is a vital part of youth ministry. It is important that they feel as connected and engaged as the youth themselves. As a youth leader, you also have the necessary job of encouraging them and lifting them up in prayer. Parents can also be your biggest assets in youth ministry, as they help by providing support for fundraising, sponsorship for youth events, and leadership for the youth group.
Be certain to keep the lines of communication open between yourself and the parents of your teens. Reach out to parents through all available means: email, phone, mail, and social media. Seek out their opinions and advice, and speak to them about what is going on in the youth ministry. Share your own youth ministry successes and struggles with parents, and invite them into the vision of youth ministry for your local church.
Continue to keep parents informed about youth group events and policies. Create a schedule of upcoming youth events and activities and distribute it to the parents of the youth. Host regular parents meetings or invite them to a meal to cast a vision for the youth group. Always be sensitive of their busy schedules and other family obligations they may have.
If possible, it may be helpful to provide workshops or other training sessions for parents of youth in your congregation that may be interested learning more about youth culture or parenting teenagers.
As it is with partnering with parents, it is vitally important to engage your larger congregation in the life of the youth ministry. Similarly, youth need to be a part of a larger community of faith, having regular interaction with other adults and children younger than themselves.
Let the lead pastor know about what is going on in NYI and in the youth group. Invite your pastors and other church leaders to pray with you for the youth of your church and community. Keep the congregation informed about what the young people of the church are doing. Hold regular youth services and allow teens to present their abilities and skills in front of the whole church. Host intergenerational activities that involve all ages. Create an “adopt-a-teen” program for sponsorship, prayer, and mentorship. Be creative in looking for ways to partner with your local church congregation. Begin with natural connections, but also explore new opportunities for youth to intersect with other members of your church.
Small groups are one of the best methods of discipleship within the life of a youth group. They create the opportunity for teens to “go deeper” in their faith through Bible study and accountability and allow them to share in a smaller and more intimate setting.
Begin by determining the format of the small group you would like to begin. What will be the time-length of the small group? Will it meet for just a few weeks, a season, a semester, a year, or indefinitely? What will be the purpose of the small group – accountability, training, growth, education, or something else? Will the small group be separated by gender, or will it combine both girls and boys? Will the topic of discussion be based around a small group curriculum or a particular book of the Bible, or will the sessions consist of more informal conversation and fellowship? How big would you like the small group to be: 4-5 participants, 12-15 participants, or more?
Once you have established the format or strategy for the small group, begin by inviting a few young people to be a part of it. You may consider starting small by only including 4-5 students at first. Many students are unwilling to share personal details about their lives in groups that are much larger than that.
After you have made a plan of when and where to meet, make sure to be prepared for the small group. This includes spending time in prayer and preparing the lesson or topic of discussion.
If your small group has been meeting for a while, consider creating more groups, mixing up the small groups, or establishing more meeting times. Allow the teens to give input on what they would like to discuss and on how they would like future small groups to be structured.
Social media has become a great resource for many youth ministries. Social media tools like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat allow information to be spread quickly to a large number of people. Social media can also create excitement about upcoming events and allow teens to connect to their youth leaders and to one another in a casual way.
Here are a few practical tips when using social media for your youth group:
- Determine which social media networks work best for your group of teenagers. Are the teens in your group more active on Facebook or Instagram? Would having a YouTube account or Twitter be helpful? There is no need to create accounts on every single social networking site out there, so pick a couple of key sites and stick with them.
- Be consistent in your posting to help keep followers informed. Stay engaged and active on your social media accounts.
- Create attractive images and use high-quality photos. Be sure to check your posts for grammar and spelling errors.
- Use social media as a way to encourage students by sending them personal messages or posting uplifting thoughts and Bible verses.
- Use social media to recognize individual people or celebrate the success of various youth events.
- Utilize your adult volunteers to take pictures, create social media content, and manage the social media accounts.
Even though social media can be an effective tool for youth ministry, it does come with its dangers. Be careful with what you post to make sure it does not embarrass any of your students or put yourself in a compromising position. Make sure to monitor your accounts for inappropriate content or spam. Allow multiple adults to have access to the account name and password to prevent anyone from misusing social media to harm, intimidate, or put teens in morally compromising situations. Use social media with caution, practice common sense, and be above reproach in everything you do online.
Here are some additional tips on using social media from youth themselves! (Responses were collected at the 2017 NYI Convention Delegate Caucuses.)
- Use social media to promote upcoming events and share information.
- Send out occasional inspirational messages, post encouraging Bible verses, or even share prayer requests.
- Create discussion posts. Ask a question and have youth leaders and youth members answer it.
- For social media, either don’t do it at all, or do it well. Having an attractive social media presence is important.
- Model for your youth proper social media and online etiquette, in both your youth group’s presence and your personal pages! Train your youth on how to deal with inappropriate online activities. Social media opens up a door for people to examine what they post—even youth leaders!
- Use a group-messaging app such as GroupMe or WhatsApp to communicate as a youth group. Use it to share announcements or devotional thoughts with your group.
- Create a unique district SnapChat or Instagram account. Use it for events like camp.
- Social media can be used for fast dissemination and distribution of leadership materials (small group guides, Bible study curriculum, etc.).
- Social media is a great tool to minister remotely across geographic distances.
If you have been in youth ministry for even just a short amount of time, you will probably encounter times when fundraising is beneficial or even necessary. Fundraisers make it possible to send teens to camps or youth conferences, provide a youth budget, or host youth activities and events. While few people enjoy fundraising, it is a vital part of youth ministry.
Before beginning fundraising efforts, engage the help of your youth to come up with ideas and projects. Set tangible goals and create excitement around the purpose of the fundraiser. Encourage teens to participate in the fundraising activities since they are directly benefitting from financial results.
There are two primary types of fundraisers that youth can participate in: fundraisers that are aimed toward their church congregation (Internal Fundraisers) and fundraisers that are aimed toward the greater local community (External Fundraisers).
Internal Fundraisers are great ways to raise money because the church congregation is already invested in the lives of the young people in their midst. They are more willing to give sacrificially because they are more likely to see the fruits of their giving. Youth fundraisers can also create annual traditions within your congregation that become highlights of the church year. However, be careful not to exhaust your local congregation with continual Internal Fundraising. It will be tiresome and financially stressful if the youth are always asking for money from their local church.
Ideas for Internal Fundraisers could include:
- Providing a meal for a small fee after Sunday morning services
- Hosting a dessert auction or a cook-off where congregants can both donate the food and participate in the fundraiser
- Having the youth provide services (housework, yard work, babysitting, painting, etc.) to congregants for a flat fee or a suggested hourly rate
- Selling tickets to a youth fair, concert, or talent show, allowing the teens to exhibit their skills to their church
- Creating a pledge drive for church members to donate to individual students or to the youth ministry as a whole
External Fundraisers provide a service to the broader community and allows teens to engage with their community in a new and exciting way. External Fundraisers can often function as outreach opportunities as they connect people in the community to your local congregation. Even people who do not go to church regularly are often willing to contribute to a youth fundraiser.
Ideas for External Fundraisers could include:
- Hosting a car wash, garage sale, craft fair, silent auction, or bake sale for the community.
- Partnering with local restaurants that are willing to donate a percentage of their profits during a set period of time in exchange for a service from the youth.
- Growing fruits or vegetables that could be sold for a profit.
- Bringing in a musician or band, and selling tickets for a community concert
- Hosting a 5K race or “fun run” and charging a registration fee for participants
One note of caution regarding fundraisers: Always be wary of fundraisers that require a large upfront cost or a minimum number of product sales. While these types of fundraisers can be successful, the danger is that you may lose more money than you make.
Be sure to work with your church’s treasurer or finance director to make sure funds are properly handled once they are received. In dealing with money, integrity and honesty are key concepts to keep in mind.
One of the first things to determine when creating and managing a youth ministry budget is whether your church has designated funds specifically for youth ministry. In other words, ask your lead pastor if a youth ministry budget already exists. If not, then ask your pastor and board to prayerfully consider adding a youth ministry line item to the general church budget. If there is no designated budget already in place, then fundraising [link to question, “How do I lead a fundraiser?”] and donations will need to be the primary sources of income for the youth ministry.
Next, create a list of spending areas for a tentative youth budget. Include things such as events, professional development, leadership development, student scholarships for camps or trips, offsetting sponsor costs for activities and trips, curriculum, transportation, and equipment. Then, prioritize this list based on what is most important to the church, to the other youth leaders, and to the youth themselves. When determining this ranking, it may be helpful to research how money was spent in past years. You can often tell what a church values the most by looking at where spends its money.
Use your newly ranked list to create a budget with each spending category as a line item. Give those high priority items the largest percentages of the overall budget. It is wise to include a contingency fund for any unexpected expenses that may arise.
Planning a budget is one thing; living within it is another. Be sure to keep clear and accurate financial records. Keep track of all income and expenses. Be a good steward of the youth ministry resources. Take any major financial decisions before God in prayer. Maintain honesty, integrity, and transparency whenever you are handling money.
Even with a small (or nonexistent) youth ministry budget, there are many events and activities that can be done for low-cost or no cost. Get creative in coming up with ideas for cheap or free youth gatherings: go hiking at a local park, meet up to play football or frisbee, cheer on other students at school events like sports games, concerts, and plays, or pack a picnic lunch and go to the beach. Most teenagers don’t need to be “entertained” by flashy venues and expensive prizes; instead, all they really want is the company of adults who care about them. Connecting with youth doesn’t require any money, just the willingness to spend time investing in relationships.
With just a few clicks of the mouse, nearly limitless youth ministry resources are available online. The internet makes it easy to search for free or low-cost resources for games, ice-breaker activities, Sunday school or small group lessons, event ideas, or leadership development tools.
A variety of resources are freely distributed by Nazarene Youth International, including quarterly webinars, curriculum ideas, and training materials. Please visit our youth leader training page for more information!
Some of the other favorite resources recommended by youth leaders from around the world are:*
- NYI Connect Blog
- The Justice Movement
- Barefoot Ministries
- Fuller Youth Institute
- Growing Young
- Youth Specialities / Especialidades Juveniles
- YouthMinistry.com / MinisterioJuvenil.com
- National Youth Workers Convention
- Sustainable Practices for Youth Ministry
- The Source for Youth Ministry
- Stuff You Can Use
- Download Youth Ministry
- Dare 2 Share
- The Longer Haul in Youth Ministry
While the internet can provide a wide assortment of youth ministry resources and materials, be sure to use discernment when deciding which materials to use. Youth ministry resources should not only be in line with the general beliefs of Christianity (as outlined in the Apostle’s Creed), but also adhere to the specific doctrines and denominational beliefs of the Church of the Nazarene.
Networking with other youth workers is an excellent way to share ideas and resources. Be sure to connect regularly with your District NYI President and other local Nazarene youth leaders as well as with other Christian youth leaders in your community. If you have the ability, many youth resources can be found by attending conferences, training sessions, and workshops.
* If you have discovered a great youth ministry resource, we want to know about it! Please email the details to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can include it in this list.
Contact your District NYI President or your district office to find out about district youth events or youth leader gatherings. Attending district events is the best way to meet other local NYI leaders.
Social networking is a great medium to connect with other youth leaders, especially where distance makes face-to-face contact difficult. See if your district NYI has created a Facebook page or group and ask to join it. If one does not exist already, offer to create one!
Once you have formed relationships with other youth leaders on your district, connect with them regularly by email or phone. As much as possible, spend time with one another in person at youth worker conferences, retreats, training sessions, and informal lunches and times of fellowship.
Especially in situations where it is difficult to connect to other local Nazarene youth leaders, look into connecting with other local youth leaders in your town or city, even if they are from a different denomination. Find out if there is a local youth worker gathering or ministerial alliance in which you can participate.
The responsibilities of the local NYI president include: chairing the local NYI council to cast a vision for youth ministry in the church (in the absence of a paid youth pastor); facilitating the development of youth ministry and working with the NYI council to define the ministry focus in response to the needs of their young people; serving on the local church board as the representative of the local youth ministry; serving as a delegate to the District NYI Convention. (See section 810.109 of the Church of the Nazarene Manual (2013-2017) for a more exhaustive list of responsibilities.)
A nominating committee appointed by the pastor will select names of potential candidates for the local NYI president. All nominees must have reached their 15th birthday at the time of their election and be members of the local church. They should be active in local youth ministry and leaders in personal example and service.
The NYI president and (any other NYI officers) are then elected by majority vote of the NYI members present at the annual meeting. If only one nominee is presented, a “yes” or “no” ballot is used with approval by two-thirds vote. Only those who are also members of the local church may vote for the NYI president.
For more information on electing a local NYI President, see sections 810.107-110 in the Church of the Nazarene Manual (2013-2017).
An NYI council is formed to guide the local church youth ministry. Creating a local NYI council is a great way to utilize those adults and students in the youth ministry that have shown potential as leaders. Through the local NYI council, you can begin to intentionally form and develop those individuals as leaders.
The local NYI council typically includes the lead pastor and/or youth pastor, the church-wide elected NYI president, additional NYI officers, and other elected or appointed youth members-at-large. NYI youth council members must be members of the local Nazarene Youth International. Local church membership is not required, but strongly encouraged with the goal of NYI council members becoming members of their local church.
Their responsibilities include planning and organizing the youth ministry within the local church; defining the ministry focus of the local NYI chapter; and cooperating with the district NYI council in promoting district, regional, and global NYI ministries.
To organize a local NYI council, begin by determining the qualifications for serving on the local NYI council (a growing relationship with Christ, regular youth group and church attendance, willingness to work on a team, willingness to serve as a youth council member, etc.). Once these guidelines are established, form a nominating committee to select the names of teens that will be placed on the voting ballot. The size of your local NYI council will depend on the size of your church and youth group. Determine how large you would like your council to be, and nominate an appropriate number of names for voting.
After NYI council nominations have been submitted, and nominees have accepted their nominations, the NYI membership elects NYI council members by majority vote at the annual NYI meeting.* Elections for the NYI council will take place annually.
Decide how often your local NYI council will meet, including the date and time of your first meeting and the dates of future meetings. For each meeting, create an agenda or list of topics for discussion. Allow equal input from youth and adult representatives on the NYI council.
*If your church has fewer than 7 NYI members, the lead pastor may appoint the members of the NYI council rather than holding an election.
For more information on electing a local NYI council, see sections 810.111-116 in the Church of the Nazarene Manual (2013-2017).