As a former youth-pastor, the idea of starting a youth-ministry from scratch that is driven by the Bible in one hand and solid research in the other was a major motivation for planting Restoration. We are so excited to mobilize our church to create a safe place for kids to know themselves, be known by the adults in the church, and discover the Living God.
We love kids because Jesus loved kids. Jesus told His disciples that unless we become like children, we will never see the Kingdom of God. Jesus seemed to think that kids have more to teach us about God than we have to teach them. Their joy and wonder confronts our formulas and cynicism. Their dependence confronts our self-reliance. Their questions expose our ignorance. Our kids are not the future of the church; they are just as much a part of the church as we are.
While our strategies may change over the coming years, our values will remain the same. As we’ve spent months talking about youth ministry and building a terrific high school ministry, here are the values that undergird our new ministry to adolescents:
Focus on individuals (not crowds)
Youth Groups often begin with fear of protecting a faith instead of joyfully discovering faith. Instead of starting a program as part of a larger marketing impulse to rope-in families, we wanted to care for the kids that we have. It is the role of the church to create a culture where our kids are part of our community. We don’t want our kids to sit quietly and listen to us; we want to sit quietly as we get to know each of them.
Focus on relationships (not programs)
When we think of ‘youth ministry,’ we usually think of a weekly program full of games, upbeat worship, and a relevant message. While many of us came to faith in youth groups, the disturbing reality is that ‘youth ministry’ is (1) only a generation old and (2) has very little impact on the long-term faith of those who pass through. However, what we know does make a huge difference is relationships. When kids in a youth group have meaningful relationships with adult adults in a church, they are far more likely to have a faith that sticks. And when kids are a part of the everday life of the church (and not given their own ministry that is wholly separate from the adult worship services), they are far more likely to see the value of church when they leave for college.
Focus on discipleship (not information)
The adult relationships that we hope to facilitate are more intentional than ‘getting to know our kids.’ We are called to faithfully pass the baton of faith to the next generation. This never happens by accident, but by intentionally discipling our teenagers through Biblical literacy, deep community, and discovering God-given passions and gifts. This only happens in discipling relationships.
Focus on grace (not following rules)
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Do you remember some of the incredibly stupid things you did? Do you remember moments of joy and wonder? Adolescence is a terrifying and wondrous journey from childhood to adulthood. It is a time when adolescents naturally want to retreat inward and hide from adults rather than invite adults into the inner confusion and chaos. It is a time where the church must pursue our children relentlessly within a safe place of love and grace.
Kids need the church, and the church needs its kids. At Restoration, we don’t want to start a new program. Instead, we want to facilitate relationships between our adults and children. There is nowhere else I’d rather see my kids discipled than in a church like Restoration.