How to Test Your Ministry’s Structural Integrity

Is there structrual integrity in your youth ministry?
Is there structrual integrity in your youth ministry? (iStock photo)

Building a healthy youth ministry is like stacking a house of cards—when one card is out of place, the whole thing falls apart. It's time to look at your ministry through the eyes of a home inspector.

Is your ministry up to code, or is there something undermining its structural integrity? Is it built to last, or will it collapse the minute you're gone?

A Rickety Ministry

Do you see yourself as your ministry's central component, with volunteers supporting your relationship with the students? Are you the hub, connecting the students with the volunteers and with each other? This flawed youth ministry structure creates a sandwich effect.

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The students and the adults are the bread and the youth pastor is the peanut butter holding everything together. This creates a few major structural problems.

1. You become a barrier. First, you're actually separating the volunteers from the students. If you've focused all ministry resources on feeding a single relationship, between the students and you, then every other relationship will end up malnourished. Volunteers won't be able to connect with students on the deepest levels. So what? you think. Why do students need relationships with volunteers when they have me? That leads to the second problem.

2. You are spread too thin. A great youth pastor can only minister and mentor three to five students at a time. When your job is to reach every single student, you're setting yourself up for failure. Your time is limited, so a good number of your students will inevitably get left out.

3. What happens when you're gone? This issue could be the most devastating for your ministry as a whole. Yes, this includes weeks where you're on vacation—if you're the one holding everything together, nights when you're gone will feel unproductive. But a bigger problem looms in the future.

No youth worker stays with a single ministry forever. Be honest with yourself: could your ministry survive without you? It's nice to feel needed, but is that feeling worth the future implosion your ministry will experience the minute you leave?

Let's put that bleak scenario behind us and think about what a healthy ministry structure looks like.

A Stable Ministry

Here's what a stable ministry looks like:

1. You navigate and equip. As the youth pastor, you still play a key role. You set the vision and direction of the ministry. Like a helmsman on a ship, you're the one steering between dangerous reefs toward the safety of a harbor. And when you aren't casting vision, you're supporting and developing adult volunteers. More than likely, you have more experience working with students than they do, so your coaching and training will be invaluable to other adults.

If your ministry is a tree, you're the roots, grounding the ministry and feeding nutrients to the adult volunteers who are reaching out to students. You're still important, but you're no longer irreplaceable. That means that, even when you move on, the ministry will survive because the other major components will still be connected.

2. Adult volunteers build relationships with students. Your adult volunteers should be the ones building deep relationships with students. Help them fill appropriate roles according to their passions and strengths. They may serve the students through a logistic role, by discipling a small group or as a single student's mentor. They are the hands and feet of the ministry, so it's your job to make sure they know what to do and where to go.

3. Students connect with God. The end-goal of your ministry isn't about connecting yourself with students; it's about helping students discover God. The core focus for students should be growing a healthy relationship with their Savior. We want them to discover who he is and how much he loves them.

We want them to discover his unique plan and mission for their lives. You may play a vital role in that, or you may stay behind the scenes. Are you willing to step out of the spotlight so students can build better relationships with their Lord?

Doug Franklin serves youth workers through a ministry called LeaderTreks. He works with a team creating tools and resources enabling youth workers to develop students into leaders. His goal is to influence youth workers to challenge students and prepare them for leadership in the kingdom of God.

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