Church Planting and Youth Ministry: Three Steps to Help Teenagers Serve Your Church

Well over a year has passed since I last wrote on the topic of “Church Planting and Youth Ministry.” While I never intended to wait so long after publishing Article #1 and Article #2, this third installment of the series will be stronger for it.

I left off writing with this conclusion: “If the youth of the church are indwelt by God the Spirit, then they are equal recipients of God’s grace and salvation, and they are equal players in God’s mission. Each one has been equipped by God to play a unique role in the body of Christ. And without their contributions to the body, their growth in Christ will be stunted – as will the missional effectiveness of the church as a whole.”

I still hold that conclusion to ring true – even more so than when I originally wrote those words over twelve months ago. During that time, my wife and I have moved from Gainesville, GA to Ellijay, GA (our hometown), and have begun the work of planting a new local church. We more than believe that God blesses his people through teenagers; we’ve already seen him do so firsthand.

Teenagers: God’s Provision for Our Church

On the last Sunday of October, I found myself weeping at the faithfulness of God to our church, especially as I considered our teenagers. We only have three teenagers who are part of our church; all three of them led publicly during corporate worship that Sunday morning. One young man played piano during musical worship, adding abundantly to an ensemble which had previously consisted of only one guitar player. The other two teens read Scripture before the preaching of God’s Word.

More than a few families who might have otherwise found a home within our church have opted not to join us due to the fact that we don’t have a “youth group.” Yet as I’m always quick to note, a “youth group” is not the same thing as a ministry to youth. Our church may not have the former, but we most certainly have the latter. And as our church ministers to teenagers, our teenagers turn right around to minister to the church – just as they did on that special Sunday.

A (Surprisingly Simple) Roadmap for Pursuing Intergenerational Integration

You don’t have to be on a church-planting core team for this example of intergenerational integration to resonate with you. In the story, there are likely points of connection with:

  • Leaders of smaller churches who struggle to know how to minister to teenagers apart from the funds to pay a vocational youth minister.
  • Concerned church leaders and volunteers seeking to transition away from a youth ministry model which “silos” students away from the rest of the church.
  • Ministry team leaders who wonder if teenagers might be the answer for their church’s ever-increasing need of volunteers.
  • Many, many more…

I am no expert on intergenerational integration – but my good friend Dr. Mike McGarry is. I highly recommend his book as a helpful resource with robust insights (A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry: Teenagers in the Life of the Church).

But as you wait on Mike’s book to be shipped to your doorstep, I’m happy to provide this three-part roadmap on how our church has realized some fruit not only in our ministry to students, but also from the ministry of our students to us:

Step #1: Engage Students

Our journey towards intergenerational ministry had shockingly simple beginnings. Teenagers walked through our doors, and our people looked them in the eye and said, “Hello.” Really. That’s how this all began. Because this simple act actually communicates something profound.

In the middle school lunchrooms and high school commons areas in which our students pilgrimage from Monday to Friday, social acceptance is based on attributes and offerings. Those with bronze bodies, athletic prowess, and social moxy “fit in.” Others are pushed to the fringes of both the gathering space and the school’s social fabric.

The gospel is different. While we were at enmity with God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8-11). For wretches who had less-than-nothing to offer the One against whom we had trespassed, Jesus stepped forth to offer the unchanging favor and acceptance of the Father himself. Now, as those indwelt by the Spirit, we’re family with God, and useful members of the Body of Christ.

The gathered body of Christ has an immense opportunity to minister to students simply by being countercultural to the middle-school lunchroom or the high-school commons area. To a student who feels like a social outcast, or to a young person who understands church is a “children are seen, not heard” venue, simply saying “Hello” will do more than fill a social silence. Say “Hello,” and you will make these mysterious wonders of the gospel tangible. Say “Hello,” and you will minister to students in the truest sense of that word.

Step #2: Equip Students

And, you’ll also learn about their lives.

I had no idea that one of our teenagers was such a gifted musician. Neither did our musical worship leader – until it came up in one of the many conversations which he had a habit of initiating with that student. That conversation led to discovery. Discovery led to investment. The investment resulted in a new leader being developed, and in this student beginning to lead our church in musical worship.

What gifts do the teenagers of your church possess which could be of great benefit to the body of Christ as a whole? What are the best “next steps” you can take to develop those gifts for the glory of God?

Step #3: Involve Students

By God’s grace, our church has been founded with a culture of challenging teenagers to minister throughout the life of our body. But even if your church doesn’t yet have such a culture, it’s easy to take a step in the right direction.

Our different ministry leaders are mindful of the fact that our teenagers are not only available for service, but are actually quite capable of ministering to our body. Communicate the same truth about the teenagers in your church to the leaders of your church’s various ministry teams. Then, watch God work! No ministry leader has ever complained about having too many available volunteers. If you challenge and bless the leaders of your church to deploy the church’s teenagers in strategic ways, the likelihood is high that teenagers will become more visible in your church’s ministries sooner rather than later.

A Purpose Bigger than Your Church

More than likely, you’ve heard a statistic related to the percentage of students who “leave the church” upon graduating from high school – often as high as two-thirds of students. Could you imagine if that statistic was flipped; if two-thirds of local church teenagers remained faithful to Jesus throughout the course of a lifetime? What impact would such a resurgence of Christ-followers have throughout the world – simply within a generation!

By taking steps towards intergenerational integration, your church can serve this global purpose. By connecting them to Christ-followers of every age and stage of life, many teenagers who might have otherwise left the church will catch a vision of what it means to walk with Jesus over the course of a lifetime – and will be better equipped to do so themselves. How welcome would such a deployment of teenage-missionary-servants be: not only for your church, but also for the sake of God’s glory being proclaimed throughout the world!

A veteran of vocational student ministry, Davis Lacey now serves as the Lead Planter and Pastor of Autumn Ridge Community Church in Ellijay, GA. He is also a member of the Rooted Steering Committee. He holds the MTS and MDiv degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as an Engineering degree from Mercer University. He is married to his childhood sweetheart Charis, and the two of them love having adventures with their two children: Evelynn and Haddon.

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