I’ve never met a leader who dreamed of having a toxic culture. Leaders want to lead a healthy culture, and volunteers want to serve in one as well. Nothing will make a great volunteer or staff member run away faster than a toxic culture!

I’ve had the privilege to work in some healthy cultures, and the nightmare of a few toxic ones. The healthy cultures brought out my best, while the toxic cultures sucked the life out of me. Nobody wants to serve in a toxic culture. Nobody. So if you want to have a healthy youth ministry, you have to have a healthy culture!

While leaders don’t dream of having a toxic culture, they still exist. Why? It’s because many leaders don’t know the signs of a toxic culture. They don’t know what makes healthy culture healthy. A major key to leading a healthy culture is understanding what makes toxic cultures so toxic.

Here are five things that, when present, lead to a healthy culture. When these things disappear or are lacking, a culture will quickly turn toxic.

Five Indicators of a Toxic Culture

1) Lack of Listening

Youth workers who lead well listen well. There is no way to lead people well if you don’t listen to them. A lack of listening will always lead to a toxic culture, especially in youth ministry.

Listening to your people lets them know you care. It lets them know you value them. As a matter of fact, one of the quickest ways to devalue a person is not listening or listening poorly.

Great leaders are great listeners. Taking the time to stop and listen to leaders is an easy way to improve your youth ministry culture. Toxic cultures talk at their people. Healthy cultures listen to them.

2) Lack of Resources

To lead people well, you have to give them the resources they need. Healthy youth ministry cultures are ministries who resource their volunteer leaders well! It’s difficult for youth workers to lead well when they don’t have the resources they need. However, when they are resourced well they are freed up to focus on loving and leading students.

A lack of resources can wreck a youth ministry! You don’t need a ton of money or flashy toys to have a healthy youth ministry culture. You will need to provide enough resources to give your leaders what they need to lead students well.

Healthy youth ministries give people what they need to lead at a high level.

3) Lack of Encouragement

Want a toxic culture? Stop encouraging your leaders and volunteers. Nothing turns a culture toxic faster than a lack of encouragement!

Leaders who are intentional about being great encouragers lead at another level. At the end of the day, people want to be valued.  By encouraging your volunteers, you add value to them. You add value in a way that makes them want to volunteer in your ministry.

Volunteers don’t have to serve in your ministry. One thing that separates healthy youth ministries is their volunteers WANT to be there. Why? Because they encourage their volunteers and call out the greatness in them!

People perform best when they’re believed in. Encouraging our volunteers is the best way to get the best out of them. It’s also the best way to retain them. Healthy youth ministries encourage their volunteers.

4) Lack of Care

Nobody should care more for your leaders than you! The healthiest youth ministries care more about their leaders as people than as volunteers. It doesn’t matter how good of a job they’re doing if their life is falling apart. The mess will eventually spill over into the ministry.

On the other side of the coin, volunteers who are cared for as individuals tend to be healthier. Youth ministries who care well for their volunteers will retain the most volunteers. People desire deeply to serve where they are cared about.

If you want a healthy youth ministry, care for your leaders more than you care about your numbers. The best way to show you’re doing a good job is to show how you care for your people. Healthy cultures focus on people while toxic cultures focus on the bottom line. People make our ministries, so it’s time we make them our priority.

5) Lack of Passion

In toxic cultures, people do what they do because they “have to” or are “supposed to.” Whereas in healthy cultures, people do it because it matters. They do it because they want to and because it makes an impact worth sacrificing for!

One or the most visible differences between healthy and toxic cultures is passion. Healthy ministry cultures are full of passionate people who love what they do and would do it for free if they had to. Toxic cultures are filled with people serving out of duty and dogma.

The problem is that people who serve out of duty will become depleted. When their cup is empty, they will walk away. People with passion will press on through difficult times. Their passion will drive them when nothing else will.

I would rather have passionate people serving in my ministry than talented people. You can teach less talented people to perform better, but you can’t teach passion.  Healthy youth ministries are passionate ministries with passionate people.


Healthy cultures are ones that listen, resource, encourage, and care for their people. They’re so passionate about what they do and why they do it that they reproduce the same passion in others. What kind of culture is present in your youth ministry?

Where is your ministry strong? Where can you grow? What do you think separates a healthy culture from a toxic one?