The Lone Ranger - No way that one person can minister to an entire youth group, even a “small” youth group. Jesus discipled a group of 12, I’m not Jesus so I would say that number is a bit high for me. In our youth ministry we like the ratio of 6 students per 1 adult leader. Spread out the ministry and your team will reach more and have an impact on more lives.
No Vision - Youth group is just a social gathering. There is no reason, or master plan, for gathering the students together each week. It is most important to remind them often of the purpose of your youth ministry and why you are on the face of this planet. Why does your church’s youth ministry exist? Be specific. How do you carry out that vision?
No Ministry - The adults faithfully minister to the students. Adults can also end up doing all the ministry rather than teaching the students how to minister and giving them the opportunity to serve. We need to teach students about how God has shaped them to serve each other, the church. Give students opportunities to serve.
The Cold - Not the common cold or even cold weather, which I despise with all that’s in me. But the cold feeling when a student who has either never been to youth group or is returning after a long extended absence. Cliques are normal, in my opinion, we naturally are attracted to people and groups who are like us. The old “birds of a feather” mentality. We need to help our students to understand what it means to make a first impression and also to extend a warm welcome to the new kid or the returning prodigal.
The Driver’s License - Let’s be honest, the reason most youth groups have an abundance of middle school students is because middle school students don’t have many options. There are so many places they can ride to on their skate board or bicycle. That day of freedom when the keys that open the magical world of driving are handed off is also often the day that youth group takes a back seat in the new driver’s life. There are so many more options out there once they can drive. We need to help students, in those years leading up to the driver’s license, see the impact they can have by driving friends with them to youth group, use their car, or momma’s SUV, as a mission tool.
The Job - In our area this is a biggie because students get summer jobs at age 14. We know that jobs aren’t evil. We also know that jobs are important to a student if they want some spending cash and for the rare child who dreams of saving up money. We need to help students learn that:
A. You are going to work your entire life. So don’t rush into it.
B. McDonalds will more than likely not be your career.
C. You can tell the manager doing the interview that you are heavily involved in your church’s youth ministry and it is important for you to now work on church days or when your youth group meets. Student’s need to promise, and follow through, with working hard as they can when they are on the clock and faithful to be there when scheduled.
This pattern of working and missing corporate worship is something that will stick with kids into their adult years. I know that we, and I’m speaking as a parent, don’t want our children to view corporate worship as not important in life when they become adults.
The boy/girlfriend - Can I get an “Amen”? Not much to be said here. We see it happen time and again. Priorities shift. We need to help students learn how to have healthy relationships both with friends and with God. Passion for Jesus Christ is the flame that needs to be fanned. If a student is passionate about Jesus they are less likely (not a guarantee) to be pulled away from fellowship by a boy/girlfriend. We must help them learn that Jesus is to be the center of their universe because he will always be there but the boy/girlfriend won’t.
The disengaged Christian parent - This is the Christian parent who doesn’t realize, or ignores, the fact that they are responsible and will be held accountable for how they disciple their child. Part of discipleship is training your son or daughter in the importance of corporate worship. We need to help parents discover that the youth ministry team is here to come along side of them as they disciple their teen. There is significant evidence that students who connect with 5 adults in their church will be more likely to continue on in their faith walk after high school. Teach them not just about corporate worship but also, by example, show them what following Christ daily looks like. Parents, does your teen see you with the Bible open on your lap having your daily quiet time?
This isn’t the ultimate list and I’m sure my student ministry friends can think of some more. You can have the most awesome student worship band, the best teaching, the craziest games, the coolest events and trips and still lose the battle to one of the impact killers listed above. So what do you do? Focus on the faithful, focus on the students who desire a lasting, growing relationship with God. Don’t neglect the ones who stray, reach out to them but don’t let them steal the time away you could be investing into a students(s) who wants to grow.
The one thing I didn’t list above but has much to do with our responsibility is to plan and prep. Make sure you are planning and preparing for each student worship gathering, don’t wing it, don’t wait until the afternoon of the gathering, don’t count on the Holy Spirit to bail you out every time for lack of preparation.
Students will come and go. There is no way you can 100% effectively close the back door. Don't let students who fizzle and stray steal the joy you find in ministering to students. Stay faithful, often you won't see the results of your efforts until the student is an adult.