One of my primary roles in my work for the Church has been to respond to questions from parish priests and lay leaders about how to start a youth group or the right time to hire a youth minister. As I’ve met with these individuals to discuss these questions in greater depth, I’m often struck by the “why” of the questions. What are they wanting to accomplish? Some of them have few, if any, youth involved in their parish so they are looking to hire a staff person or to start a program that will better engage the youth. Some are starting to see youth wanting to get more involved and they are seeking to offer support. Honestly, several times the leaders in the parish simply state that they want an active youth group because the church down the road has one or they have fond memories of their own childhood youth ministry.
Despite a plethora of reasons for starting or improving youth ministry, there are really only two common responses the average parish considers: starting a youth group or hiring a youth minister (or a combination of these two). When discerning the best path forward, it’s important to take time to consider the known options but also to have an openness to whatever it is that God desires. The risk of not doing so can hinder a ministry’s fruitfulness. Also, if decisions are made out of ignorance, pride, or even simply an impatience with the current realities, the ministry itself can be disordered from the start.
Though there isn’t a “one size fits all” option and I don’t claim to know what God’s will might be for any given situation, my hope here is to share with you some of the ways that I’ve seen youth ministry work most effectively. In the following paragraphs, I’ll explain a certain option, some of the benefits of implementing it, and finally some of the limitations and implications of each initiative.