As anyone who has parented a teenager or worked with them in ministry can attest, teenagers have a variety of emotions. Understatement of the century! Happy. Sad. Angry. Tired. Horny. (Oh snap, the pastor said horny! Now I’m interested!). Irritable. Clingy. Apathetic. Helpful. And back to Happy. Attached to each emotion is a need, and though there are definitely more than five needs, I’ve chosen to focus in on just five for the remainder of this article. These are five needs that I believe that a healthy youth ministry can meet to varying degrees.
Also, just for clarity sake I’ll be using the terms teenagers and students interchangeably. Okay… Onward!
1. Teens need a place to belong in community with their peers.
This is why we make a concentrated effort to have a weekly meeting where students can come to play games and blow off steam with their peers. We truly believe that fun over time = connection, and we are seeking to connect them in relationship to their peers, caring godly adults, and ultimately to God. Students need fun (heck, we all do!) and safe places to gather with their friends. What if the church made it a priority to provide a desirable place like this?
2. Teens need a safe place to process questions and doubts in their faith.
This is why we believe so strongly in small group ministry at South Bay Students. Especially because high school students by and large think like philosophers. They need to be pointed toward discovery…it would be easier to give them the answers to their tough questions, but what if we asked another question and began an ongoing dialogue instead? (If you take a look at the gospels you’ll see this was Jesus’ approach) This serves to allow them to discover the answer on their own, and produces ownership of what they believe. What if we were no longer threatened by tough questions, but learned to leverage them?
3. Teens need godly adults in their lives in addition to their parents.
Parents will always have the most potential time with, and deepest impact on a students faith walk, but parents are not the only thing that students need. This is why we believe that every student needs a champion (aka adult) who knows their name and what’s going in on their life. These adults are meant to be in addition to, and should complement strong parental support. Small group leaders can be one of several potential godly voices pointing them to Jesus. Recent research on teens and what is deemed a “sticky faith” indicates that one major factor in a teen remaining in their faith beyond high school was the presence of at least five other godly voices/influences in their teenage years. What if we made it a priority to make sure every teen had multiple godly adults pointing them to Jesus before they graduated?
4. Teens need a place to take ownership of their faith and begin to act on what they’ve discovered.
There really should be no better place for students to learn to serve in the area of their passion than the church. Creative writing? Childcare? Teaching? Leading? Music? Pastoring? Greeting? Praying? What if we showed teens just how significant they are by giving them something truly significant to do in the body of Christ? Will they fail? Yes. Will they flake? Some of them. But what safer place to fail and learn, or to flake and get forgiveness than the church? What if we handed over the keys of ministry to teens now instead of later?
5. Teens need to be mobilized to live the great commission.
Teenagers need adults raising them up and cheering them on as they are sent out to impact the world with their God-given passions and talents. Schools need the light of Christ shining from their lives. Sports teams need the saltiness of the Gospel that they can provide. What if a weekly youth service and/or small groups were launching pads into the world to carry out the great commission, and then a gathering place to encourage and support said mission?
Well, these are the five areas of need that students/teens have in their lives and the ways that I believe a healthy youth ministry can meet them. What about you? Anything you’d add? Subtract? Modify? I’d love to hear from you!