Transitions In Youth Ministry Part 1: Healthy Foundations

Transitioning into a new youth ministry, or your first ministry can be very challenging! A good start (or a poor start), makes all the difference. But what are some of the keys to making a good transition into a new youth ministry? There are many, but here are the ones I have found to be paramount in making a good transition:

LISTEN FIRST: A commitment I have made in my last two positions was to move slowly and take time to understand the people and programs first. In my opinion, we should be committed to not making any major changes in the first year, (only tweaking what has been done in the past). This is easier said than done, but it’s important to glean important insights, learn good lessons, and most importantly build trust with leaders, students, and parents.

RELATIONSHIPS: No matter what happens in our first year, we cannot forget that relationships are at the core of everything we should be doing. In a new position it’s so easy to get task focused, but we cannot get too busy to build relationships…  After the first year it will be solid relationships that will make you and your students want to achieve greater things together… 

GIVE THEM TIME: Give students, leaders, and parents time to get to know you! Take a deep breath and realize that healthy relationships and authentic community will all take time. Many are likely still hurting from a massive relational loss from their pervious youth worker moving on. They might also be hurting from a difficult parting of ways with the previous youth worker? Don’t be surprised or offended when your new church talks about the past and dreams about what was. Often, I have heard youth workers complain about their new church not getting on board with them quickly enough. It takes a good 12-18 months (in my opinion), to start to foster healthy and authentic relationships and feel like people are accepting us fully.

GIVE YOURSELF TIME: Don’t be unrealistic about how long it takes to build relationships, build momentum, and help disengaged students engage into your ministry. So often there is a slowing of momentum when a youth worker leaves and it’s imperative that we realize the importance of patient rebuilding. Give yourself time and develop a long-term perspective that will build solid foundation for many years to come… 

There’s a few things to focus on today. Tomorrow I will look at one of the most dangerous traps of transition: The Comparison Game

Have you been in a transition recently? What challenges did you face? What lessons have you learned that has been a “life saver” for you? Feel free to add your wisdom to these comments.
Phil <><


10 Responses to Transitions In Youth Ministry Part 1: Healthy Foundations

  1. Brian Remsch February 7, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    I’ve had my first youth ministry position for about a year right now, and I cannot agree more with you, Phil. Relationships are key in the first year. They are the impetus that allows change to occur in the future. One of the most important things for me has been relationships with parents. Getting parents on board with you is so important.

    Thanks again!

  2. Phil Bell February 7, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks Brian! Check out the next post on “The Comparison Game”. I hope you haven’t had much experience in being compared to the last youth worker, but it’s something that we often face.

    I am so glad that relationships are the priority for you. It will be the best foundation you could build! Great stuff mate!

    Phil <

  3. Andy February 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Solid stuff here, Phil. Time is huge. One of the best youth ministers I know has been at his church 10 years now. But he was not really able to begin to implement his vision until he had been there for a couple of years. He was patient, and it has paid out extremely well. Great advice, buddy!

  4. Chris February 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    I am 6 months into my first year of being a director of a presbyterian youth ministry in Boulder, CO. I did not grow up in the church, met Jesus in High School, and have been pursuing kids ever since. I am only 23 and recently got married, but for some crazy reason, the Lord has entrusted me to a huge flock. All the things you said Phil are right on. Listening is huge. I feel I am good at that. But I give myself a hard time, no patience.
    I look forward to reading your blog about comparison. I get torn apart by that daily.
    Thanks again for your words.

  5. Phil Bell February 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Hey Chris, GREAT to hear from you mate! How exciting to be 6 months in! Praise God for new youth workers like you! Myself, Darren, John, and Leneita have a HUGE heart for young youth workers like you, so stay connected and feel free to ask any questions you have. Feel free to get in touch through the contact page too.

    I have some very good friends in Loveland at Group / Simply Youth Ministry you should try to connect with. Brilliant people!

    Stay in touch Mate!

    Phil <

  6. Phil Bell February 7, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    Chris: P.S – There’s a great post coming on Thursday from John and Leneita about being married in ministry. Check it out!

  7. Youther February 8, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    Helpful comments, Phil–thanks for the thoughts.

    I’ve just gotten through my first 6 months as a youth minister, and it’s been up and down. This is kind of a second career for me, so I’m pretty new to youth ministry.

    At our current church where I work we are in transition mode from the former youth minister. For the middle school things have remained strong, and I’ve tried to build off of that, but the high school has lost some momentum. I’ve been able to locate a few reasons for this: 1) Transition in youth leadership 2) Loss of a major senior leadership class to graduation last year 3) extra-carricular commitments keeping students busy.

    I’m really trying to work hard at being patient, however it’s quite difficult when I know that things were much stronger before I arrived. We have a relatively small youth program (about 32 kids altogether) so a drop in numbers is always noticeable. I’ve often found myself being overly anxious about which high schooler is going to attend youth group or the next event. The major challenge this year I face with that group is keeping the few who do and are able to come motivated and interested. It’s been discouraging, but we do have alot of positives, such as a big mission trip this summer with many signed up. I just hope I can build off those positives.

    Sorry to go on and on–it’s just nice to have some other fellow youth workers to let it out to. I’m hoping I can find the peace of mind and patience you are referencing, Phil, to make it through the year…In the meantime, I’m really going to focus on the process of building those relationships and aiming towards long term successes as opposed to short term “blockbuster events.” I know that I will probably have to just accept the fact that our high school group will not be that strong this year in terms of participation, and just turn to the process of slow relationship building.

    Thanks again for the comments, and I’ll look forward to reading more.

  8. Phil Bell February 8, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Youther, you have the right approach. Focus on the foundations of relationships and the long-term outcomes. Momentum takes time and it also takes confidence to stay the course. It’s easy to get sucked into the latest thing or copy what the church down the street is doing. It’s more important that you build a strong base and keep plugging away. After all, healthy things will grow… Pursue health for your ministry and give yourself at least 18 months for some of the imperatives to take hold.

    In terms of building momentum, don’t give up on the checked out high school students, but don’t make them your focus either. Your younger students in middle school and the Freshman will be carrying the vision and ownership of this ministry in two years from now, so ensure they get the best of your time and investment. Does that make sense? Obviously don’t neglect the high school students, but it’s better (in my opinion) to build healthy foundations than trying to “fire fight” the students who are not coming. In some ways, it’s about building on your strengths and not trying to improve your weak areas.

    Let me know if this makes sense?

    P.S – Can you get to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Louisville KY, next month?

  9. Youther February 9, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    I like your comment about “fire fighting” those who are not coming. That’s certainly the way it feels sometimes. What you say does make sense, indeed right now, for better and for worse, it kind of feels like I have to be future oriented.

    I suppose I can point out another difficult thing about it, which pertains to ministry in general, but especially youth ministry. In youth ministry you deal with many different perspectives: that of the youth, your volunteers, your colleagues, and the congregation. Everybody sees things differently and sometimes it feels like you have to answer to all those groups. For me, at least right now, I struggle with dealing with questions about attendence from all these different groups. Don’t get me wrong nobodies breathing down my neck, and I think people are generally understanding. However, I’m just now really starting to develop a long term vision and so it’s been difficult to deal with all the different demands and expectations–some of which I have been able to live up to, and others that I have not.

    I really appreciate your advice Phil–and even us ministers need ministers. This has been really helpful and your comments have been very comforting. Unfortunately I will not be able to make the Youth Conference as I’ll be on a retreat in March with my youth. I did go to a YS Palooza a few weeks ago, but I know the bigger conferences are much more in depth.

    Ministry is challenging, and youth ministry has its own unique brand of challenges. I only hope that this anxiety filled up and down beginning prepares me for the future as opposed to burning me out.

  10. yang:) March 5, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    Blessed day Ptr. Phil,

    To start with, I would like to say to you that I am grateful to find this post of yours. Today, I did smile because of this=)
    Same with many workers out there, I am also blessed to handle young people. I can say that handling them is not easy yet my heart becomes more stronger because I know my helper never sleeps (GOD).
    I don’t have questions right now…I just want to appreciate you for your big heart to share your gifts to us. Ptr. Phil, God loves you even more because of your obedience to Him. I will pray for you and your family:)

    God bless you more!

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