Youth ministry methods and activities in which I have participated and/or have observed to be:
1. Most beneficial:
- Small group Bible studies (often held in homes one evening a week) led by adults more than ten years older than the students. Students need other faithful adults, in addition to their parents, whose fruitful lives they can observe up close, with whom they can share long-term loving relationships, and with whom they can discuss, in a small group setting or privately, life and faith issues that face them as they mature. Other young adults less than ten years older than the students may serve as assistant leaders in these groups in order to learn how to lead and to assist in mentoring the students, but they should not be the primary leaders of the group. This format provides consistent personal contact with both adult Christians who have walked the path ahead of them and other students who are walking the path with them. An example of this is Jesus and his twelve disciples. Though he may not have been a full ten years older than they, (I would guess that most of the twelve were in their twenties) he was significantly more mature than they in spiritual things. He spent most of three years walking and talking with them, sometimes in even smaller groupings (the Peter, James and John), explaining his teachings in more depth (“What does the parable mean?) and challenging their thinking about and faith in him (“But who do you say that I am?”)
- Short-term local, regional or overseas mission projects. Students need activities to which they can look forward and that challenge them to participate in ministries they would not normally choose. To use Jesus’ example again, he took the twelve with him on his “mission” projects to show them how it was done (healings, feedings), to give them opportunities to participate (“You give them something to eat”), and at times sent them out on their own and had them report back to him afterwards (“Go into the nearby towns and villages and announce the coming kingdom” Luke 10). These can easily include some fun/sightseeing elements on days off or between sections of the project with some preplanning.
2. Less beneficial (from the greater to the lesser level of benefit):
- Spiritual retreats with guest speakers and periods of time set aside for personal reflection, prayer ministry, worship, and small group reflection. These can be helpful at crucial points in the ministry or to focus pointedly on a particular topic.
- Fun retreats mostly for fellowship and activities such as ski weekends, camping, touring, etc. These can tend to be expensive, but can sometimes be helpful. I would rather combine fun with a project as above.
- Weekly large group meetings with a music group and so-called dynamic speaker, often less than ten years older than the listeners. These events tend to promote a performance or even star mentality around the music group and main speaker. The students are mostly passive while the music group and speaker are very active. Much time and energy is spent in preparation by the speaker and music group. Much time, energy and money is spent on equipment, seating and set-up and tear-down in an attempt to make the presentations effective. Because the speaker is usually less than ten years older than the students, he or she often does not yet have enough life experience to speak wisely or pastorally. These might be of more benefit if done less frequently (monthly or quarterly) and with a variety of speakers on special topics of concern and interest to students.