The need to Reevaluate Traditional Student Ministry

Over the course of my ministry career I have worked for different types of Churches and ministries. No matter where I have worked there have usually been some key elements that have worked in each of them.

For instance, you have your discipleship component which usually consists of small groups, Sunday school class and youth group (which includes worship and teaching). You have your outreach component which usually involves a fun gathering where students are encouraged to bring friends and Christ is proclaimed. Then you have your service component in which you are your youth group goes out and serves the community or goes on a mission trip somewhere.

Unknown-3However, when I got to New Life I discovered that “traditional” programming and interactions just didn’t work with the student ministry.

We did some really great things and good things happen.  Students got on board, excited about a lot of the things we did.  We also encountered some of the typical struggles that most student ministry programs.  We struggled with the competition of a competitive sports environment in the area, stress for great grades (a parent recently told me that if her daughter wants to get into a quality VA state school, she has to take 8 AP classes by the time she graduates) and an all-around “whatever-ness” in regards to anything Christ relatedness.

As we evaluated the program (maybe even over-evaluated at times), we were constantly asking the question, “What are we doing that is drawing students and NOT doing that prevents more from coming?”  It is a question I wrestle with all the time.  Why wrestle with it? Because even though God has blessed me in being successful in reaching students for Christ in all my ministry stops, I never felt that there was a magic formula to doing student ministry.

And why is there no magic formula? Why can traditional student ministry not work everywhere you go? Because students are changing, culture is changing and parents are changing.  As the world changes around us what used to work doesn’t necessarily work anymore.  Therefore, you have to be able to adapt and change with it to reach students and families for Christ.  I’m not encouraging us to change principles and core beliefs but strategy needs to change.

And that has been a HUGE takeaway from my time at New Life.  Whereas in the past I could do some core things in my student ministry to gain growth, those core things weren’t working at New Life.  That is when I came to the conclusion that Traditional Youth Ministry doesn’t work here!  And, it may not work anywhere anymore.

So what can you do?

Because ministry and communities are so different around the world, the best thing you can do is evaluate and adapt your program in the midst of your context.  I know that seems like a no brainer but make sure you do the research to determine what works best.  Poll parents, get feedback from students, and make sure you know the city and town you are doing ministry.  If what you’ve done in the past isn’t working now, change it up.

Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life, always said the best Young Life is yet to come.  I believe that to be the same with student ministry as a whole. The best is yet to come.  However, if you don’t evaluate and adjust with the changing times you will not be the best but a relic of the past.

What do you think? How has traditional student ministry changed for you and what have you done to evaluate and adapt to the changing times? Share your thoughts and examples below or on social media using #ymsidekick.

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Tom Pounder

A father of 4, Tom is the Online Campus Pastor as well as Social Media Director at New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, VA. He blogs, vlogs, periscopes and podcasts regularly about student and online ministry stuff. Check out his work at and on iTunes (search YMSidekick).

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