12 questions that help put young people first in Youth Ministry Practice

Often young people are the forgotten aspect of youth ministry practice. Think about it. The days before are spent thinking of programmes, resources, craft activities, getting the keys, checking on the volunteers, booking a room, facilities, the days and hours after are about recovery and starting again for the next week. In a process of trying to develop entertainment and education on an ongoing basis, stopping and thinking about young people can feel like an additional drain. I have said before, that young people are youth ministry’s biggest resource. But often their capacity has been overlooked. In Naomi Thompsons recent book (a review is on this blog) she recounts how in strategising activities like sunday schools, without local consultancy of those using Sunday schools, or adapting teaching practices to less formal methods all contributed to their downfall. A reluctance to build youth ministry – thats youth groups, and maybe even Messy Church, around similar processes might only repeat the same issues. A few weeks ago I was talking with a group of young people who were all in a north east secondary school, and they all said that it wasnt more activities that they wanted, it was that they wanted to volunteer, they wanted to contribute. They wanted to have a voice, a say and be significant in local decision making and processes. From a Church point of view, and its well repeated, Christian Smith in 2005 discovered that young people wanted to make even more positive contributions in churches, but that they were prevented from doing so. He highlighted that power, control, and lack of awareness , and ‘the church culture’ were reasons why they were unable to. Young people want to be more involved that we often think they want to be, and are given the space to be. Maybe it is time to develop youth ministry around young people – and not existing resources, programmes, buildings or agendas. 

So, when we start, or continue in youth Ministry, these questions might help us start framing it in a new way.

  1. What are we learning about Young People and faith, in every encounter- and what are they teaching me?
  2. What gaps are there that I , as a leader, am willing to open up so that a young person can contribute more?
  3. What space is there in youth ministry to hear what God is saying to young people?
  4. What do I need to stop in the youth ministry practice, so that God is encountered more?
  5. If Discipleship is about doing (performing) – then what is God asking young people to do to show goodness & love in the world? and how might we join in? (discipleship is also mission)
  6. Are there gifts that young people have, that the whole church and wider community might be able to use?
  7. How might young people contribute to decision making process within their own group
  8. How might a local church, and local community best use the resources of young people that it has – see them as contributors and creators, not a problem.
  9. What do i need to do, so that young people trust enough to take risks in their faith?
  10. What questions are they asking, and how might they be also developing an answer to?
  11. Where am i afraid to go, as young people might lead me to a new place ?
  12. What might make faith be an exciting risky, demanding, creative thing in the lives of young people – not just a boring teachy, moral thing…?

You can take on any new resources, plans, curriculum for youth ministry as you like. But anything that reminds them of school and learning expectations will have a similar opt out process. Young people have choice, ultimately. But if in youth ministry we are asking the risky, faith questions, and help guide young people to risky faith that challenges us, then we might find a whole new way of doing community with young people who then participate and do discipleship, learning along an active journey, one that is dramatic in the face of the world, as acts of goodness challenge expectations and fear. A generation of young people need to be trained in the ways of goodness, in a dramatic world of competing values. Fortunately there are many who already want to make positive contributions. As adults and youth leaders, a new way of being might emerge as we stop and listen to recognise young people, their God given ness to us in our youth ministry practice



Christian Smith, 2005, Soul Searching, The rise and fall of faith in American Teenagers. 

Naomi Thompson, 2018, Young People and the church. 

Wesley Van der Lugt, 2014, Living Theodrama. 

Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) , though this blog is my own personal views. I am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

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