There are a lot of different youth ministry models to choose from. Different youth ministries do different things well, and we can all learn from each other. Regardless of the size of your ministry, we all have something to learn from one another!

I learned a powerful youth ministry lesson from watching other youth ministries. As I’ve traveled and met youth pastors across the country, their ministries have all been different. Some are healthier and have better results than others though.

So here is the question I began asking a few years ago: What makes the best youth ministries the best? It’s not the size of the crowd or their budgets. It’s not the talent and ability of their youth pastors. I’ve found the single greatest measure of success to be what type of ministry you have: for students or by students.

Here’s what I’ve found separates and defines these two types of youth ministries.

Youth Ministries FOR Students:

1) Teach Students

Ministries for students teach. They usually teach really well and are incredibly creative. Students from these youth ministries know a lot of truth about following Jesus.

2) Entertain Students

Ministries for students usually place a high value on entertainment. These ministries work tirelessly to have the best environments and to make sure students have fun. Students show up because they know they will have a good time at youth group.

3) Minister to Students

Youth ministries for students are great at ministering to students. To minister is defined as attending to someone’s needs or providing something helpful. Most youth ministries do this well. They love on students, teach them important truth, and help them navigate through life.

None of this is bad. These are all great things that most youth ministries by students will do in some way as well. A by students ministry doesn’t value these things less, they simply value more than this.

Youth Ministries BY Students

1) Disciple Students

Ministries by students don’t just teach, they make disciples. A disciple is a person who accepts and helps spread the teaching of another. These ministries don’t just teach students about Jesus. They enlist them to do ministry and give them opportunities to serve in meaningful ways.

2) Engage Students

To engage someone is to involve them in the process and let them participate in it. Youth ministries by students aren’t content to simply entertain. They value involving students in the process of ministry and invite them to participate in it. Entertain students and they will eventually get bored. Engage them and they will get involved!

3) Minister with Students

Ministries by students realize the best way to minister to students is with students. Youth workers can only minister to 6-8 students well before people start falling through the cracks. Your ministry’s potential has no limit when students take on the mantle of ministry.

We can choose to minister to students or to minister with them. The last time I checked an army marches shoulder to shoulder, and so does a thriving student ministry.

In my experience, ministries for students and ministries by students will get different results as well.

Youth Ministries FOR Students

1) Have attenders

2) Are driven by adults.

3) Graduate students from church.

Youth Ministries BY Students

1) Have bringers.

2) Are driven by students.

3) Graduate students into ministry.

To be candid, this is an area I struggle with. Building a ministry of students doesn’t come as natural to me as ministering to students. I had to get intentional about leading ministry this way, but it’s definitely worth it!

I’ve led multiple ministries to students. However, my ministry impact multiplied exponentially when I began to lead a ministry by students. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the investment.

There are a lot of benefits that come with a ministry by students. Leadership development and passing the baton of church growth are just a couple. However, leading a ministry by students isn’t about leadership development or church growth. It’s about advancing the Kingdom!

The kingdom of God will advance most powerfully through God’s people. Pastors won’t reach the most people, parishioners will! Our role as youth pastors is to equip those we lead to do the work God is calling them to. I believe we advance the Kingdom best when we empower students to do ministry.

What would happen if youth leaders embraced the role of coaches? You see, coaches lead from the sideline and win through their players. I believe it’s time we learn to lead from the sideline and not the field. It’s time to let the players play the game, their potential to win is greater than ours anyway.

So where do you stand? Are you leading a ministry of students or for students? How can you empower students to do ministry?

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