Often youth ministry conferences and blogs can leave us with ten new big ideas to implement in our ministries. In reality, much of youth ministry is seemingly small, repetitive, and mundane. And somehow in the minutia of these repeated tasks—managing rosters, texting students, and preparing devotionals—God is at work. As we serve our students faithfully, God is not only using our efforts to point them to Jesus; he’s also shaping our hearts through the discipline of service.
We asked our Rooted writers to share about the small stuff that shapes their ministries (and their lives!)—the routine practices in youth ministry that they would commend to others. We hope their responses will encourage you in the gospel as you continue doing “small things with great love.”
, Student Pastor at Christ Community Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Afraid of being labeled as an “Entertainment-based Youth Group” I’ve long wrestled with the practice of kicking off Wednesday nights with a game. Not only is selecting a game mundane, is it valuable? I mean, I have an hour (give or take) with the whole group per week. Should’t I be using it all to teach the Bible?
Well, over the years, I’ve realized that while teaching the Bible and applying the gospel of grace is central (in both focus and time-allotted), it is not the only value to uphold. Forged and strengthening relationships is valuable. Fun and laughter in a ship-wrecked world is valuable. Getting a little silly in an often performance-based, hyper-pressurized culture of academia and athletics is valuable. Mixing up potential cliques and letting the introverts get a little “air time” is valuable. Cultivating a lively culture to accommodate teenagers is valuable.
So however mundane selecting and planning out the weekly game is, and however “low I must stoop” as a youth pastor to get pegged by water balloons, uplifting these values in the form of a weekly game has become a cherished task for me. And as much as they benefit from it, I do too. The task humbles me. It slows me down enough to pray for relationships to form among the students. And it gets me outside my own comfort zone a little bit as I engage with our students.
Nope, I’m not a PE teacher; but I’m also more than strictly a Bible teacher. I’m a pastor. This weekly routine reminds me to become all things to these teens, ultimately for the gospel’s sake.
, Assistant Director of Student Ministries at East Cobb Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA
One of the strongest elements of the youth ministry at my church is our student leadership team that volunteers year round, as well as our summer intern team made up of college students. One of my favorite tasks we have them do is send out personalized postcards to all of their students! Writing postcards may seem like a small and maybe even unimportant task, but I have heard numerous people recall how meaningful these are to our ministry. The act of letter-writing in a day and age marked by frenzied communication shows students that their leaders have taken the time to sit down, pray for them, and recall details to mind from their last conversation. I once had a father of some students in our ministry urge me to never stop writing these postcards. He said it has been a gift to his children to come home after a long day at school and have a special note in the mail, just for them!
This is a small way that we can show the pursuing heart of the Lord to our students. Many students in our ministry have saved all the postcards they have ever gotten from staff, summer interns and student leaders, and they have quite the collection! All of these postcards are reminders of all of the leaders in the past and present that have invested in them and shown them Jesus. The act of writing postcards may seem like such a small task compared to everything else that needs to be done in youth ministry, but it truly reaps dividends in making our students feel seen, known, and loved—ultimately pointing them to their Father’s heart.
Building relationships with students by entering into their world can feel mundane, but it is so important. I recently started at a new church where the student ministry was heavily impacted by COVID-19 and is therefore a pretty small group. I have driven home frustrated more times than I care to admit as I have experienced a lack of enthusiasm and involvement within the student ministry. What has been my main focus is to pursue students who were involved pre-COVID and to attend their games, participate in their hobbies, take them out to eat, etc.
I don’t have much of a passion for shooting guns but it is one of my students’ favorite hobbies. I asked him to teach me how to shoot a gun and we had quite a memorable experience together! This past week, I started a 14-week discipleship study on gospel-centered theology with four guys before their school day. They showed up hungry to learn and grow. The student who loves to shoot guns is taking part in the study, and his mom told me her son loves coming to student gatherings, which hasn’t always been the case.
Even in the mundane, we need to take the long view and marathon approach. God is at work. One of the most important tasks we have is to faithfully and persistently invest in the students whom God has entrusted to our care.
Pastor to High School and Middle School Students, Chinese Bible Church of Maryland,
One practice brought back to our ministry this year is using name tags. You may wonder, “as the youth minister, shouldn’t know each of the students’ names already?” That part is true—but I am not the only person in the room who needs to know! While I may know their names, other students and leaders may not, and conversely, new students may not know my name, or the names of our leaders.
Wearing name tags has increased the quality of relationships among students and leaders. It has reduced the awkwardness of talking to someone and forgetting their name. It can be tedious to make sure that they are always on hand for each meeting and to have someone write them out (although one of our student leaders always volunteers), but this habit has been totally worth it for the sake of helping students feel known and loved in our ministry.
, Pastor of Youth and Families, First Congregational Church of Hamilton, MA
Years ago one of my colleagues at a previous church had the brilliant idea to have our summer youth interns prepare birthday cards for every student on our rosters. The interns purchased cards, printed mailing labels, and then assembled everything so the cards only needed to be signed by our team and then dropped in the mail.
Thanks to the good example of my colleague, I’ve continued this practice of writing birthday cards for the past ten years or so. I recruit a summer intern or a group of high school students help queue up the cards, along with a printout of student birthdates by month. It’s a small thing—but the regular task of slowing down to write a few notes of gospel encouragement every week draws me to pray for each student and his or her family. This ministry of prayer is a critical part of youth ministry, but one I can too easily neglect.
Because we include many students who don’t actually come to youth group (for example the children of new believers, who didn’t grow up in the church) in the birthday cards, the notes have often created an opening in a relationship with a student I don’t know very well. In the midst of many other assignments, it strikes me that this discipline of writing hopeful, encouraging words to our students on their birthdays is some of my most important work.