Every youth leader I know wants to get better and grow their ministry. What’s crazy is many youth workers talk about growing their ministries,  but do the things that break them. Odds are you want your ministry to grow. You want to reach as many students as possible. Here’s the deal though, if you’re not intentional you might to do the opposite.

I’ve seen youth ministries grow and others implode. I recently saw a youth ministry go from 85 to under 15 in six months! So what happened? The youth leader did these five things that break youth ministries.

5 Steps to Breaking Your Youth Ministry in 90 Days or Less

1) Change everything.

Students, like most humans, aren’t big fans of change. For one reason or another though, many young leaders take over a ministry and immediately change everything.

It’s almost like these leaders think any idea of their predecessor was a bad idea. They change the room and environment. They change meeting times. They change the mission and strategy. Then, when students struggle and stop coming, they wonder why.

Think about it with me. When do youth workers generally make the most changes? It’s usually after a transition between youth workers.

One pastor or volunteer leaves and another takes their place. The new leader wants to hit the ground running and put their stamp on the ministry, but the students are still hurting. They’re still processing the loss of a trusted adult.

When students are struggling like this, they don’t need a lot of change and new ideas. What they need is a leader who will listen to them, love them, and walk through the process with them.

Want to break your youth ministry in 90 days? Change everything.

2) Focus on response instead of relationships

Another way to tank your ministry is to focus on response instead of relationships. Here’s what I mean. Your focus begins to shift to how many students are coming and tracking numbers. You’re concerned about students having fun and if they posted on social media about your sermon. This will always lead you backwards.

When we focus on response over relationships, students pick up on it. They feel manipulated instead of motivated. The emphasis on response makes them feel devalued, and then they respond even less.

Students engage in youth ministry for relationships. Relationships with each other, adults who care, and with God. When we focus on response instead of relationships, it’s like hanging  an exit sign over the door.

The funny thing is, response comes naturally when we focus on relationships. By focusing on relationships first, students feel loved and valued. These are catalysts for growth. It’s through the relationships students build that we see response in the way they live.

Focusing of response over relationships is a great way to break your ministry. Relationships should always be the priority!

3) Lead as the Lone Ranger.

“Who needs help? Not me, I’m a stud.” These are the words of a soon to be unemployed youth pastor. Want to break your youth ministry in under 90 days? Do everything on your own.

Have you ever heard this phrase? “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Odds are you have, and the odds are even greater it came from a poor leader. Good leaders know that doing everything yourself is the death nail of growth.

Great youth ministries have great teams! They have teams of people who work together to accomplish more than any one individual. Many struggling and declining youth ministries, however, are led by extremely talented youth workers. The problem is their talent keeps them from trusting a team!

If you want to shrink your youth ministry and impact, lead like the lone ranger. It’s a quick and guaranteed way to break your ministry and make students disappear!

4) Pursue ministry more than Jesus.

This one is simple, and we all know it’s dangerous, but we all have a tendency to do it anyway. Youth ministries grow because of Jesus. Period. Jesus is the reason we do ministry and is who we desire for our students to pursue!

However, the monster of ministry looms large and can tend to take over. The day to day expectations and ministry grind can distract us from the only thing that matters. Jesus.

Perhaps the easiest way to derail a youth ministry is to pursue ministry more than Jesus. I know this is a real danger because I’ve been here before. At one point, I realized I was doing ministry for Jesus and not with Jesus.

Jesus has to be our pursuit more than anything else. Students don’t need a perfect youth ministry or a hip youth pastor. They need a leader who loves them and loves Jesus.

The best way to impact your students is to pursue Jesus in front of them.

5) Over celebrate yesterday’s success.

“The greatest enemy of tomorrow’s success is today’s success.” -Peter Drucker

A simple recipe for a declining youth ministry focusing on what God did yesterday instead of what He’s doing today. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating! Celebrating what God has done is a good thing. Just don’t let the celebration get in the way of what God is calling you to today.

Many youth workers experience decline because of over celebrating yesterday’s successes. If your best stories are from years ago, you’ve become the victim of yesterday’s success. Good youth workers are leaders who can celebrate what God has done with one eye on the future.

Youth ministry doesn’t stop while we celebrate. Don’t take your eyes off the present to stare at the past! Thank God for what He’s done and celebrate the past, but do so with the belief that the best work is still to come.

Odds are you want your ministry to grow. You want to reach as many students as possible. To get there, avoid these five pitfalls, pursue Jesus, and love students well.

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