I’ve always enjoyed traveling. It didn’t really happen that much until I went to college, but then it hit me: I have friends from all over the nation. What if I went where they lived? I could experience and see different areas of the USA. So I did just that. As a result, I often asked where we were going.
It’s fitting I’m in ministry now, I guess. That question should be a headlining question for those in ministry. It’s a question I love to answer, and it’s one that I’ve asked every step of the way in my experience. When I was a fresh new student pastor at a church in Norfolk, VA, I asked it. When I was a church planter in southeastern Kentucky, I asked it even more. As a semi-experienced student pastor in northern Kentucky now, I ask it often.
I suppose this is the reason for this blog post. I realized that I haven’t put the answer to this question out to the public at large. I’ve shared it with parents and student leaders, but not with everyone. Now’s the time.
So. Where are we going?
I’m glad you asked.
Before we jump in, let me give some background info: I started serving at The Mount in Williamstown, KY, about a year and a half ago. We’ve had some success and failure, but that’s ministry. I’m of the mindset that churches and ministries should dream big and take risks. Honestly, I’m not interested in being in a ministry that doesn’t do that. So here I am. Even better, here we are.
The student ministry at Mount Olivet Christian Church is one that takes Ephesians 3:20-21 seriously: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” The question that I’ve wrestled with is, “What does ‘immeasurably more’ look like for Students at The Mount?” I’ve also wrestled with the question, “What can we do now to set up for ‘immeasurably more’ in the future?” This all stems from the statistic that 70% of 6th-12th graders in Grant County, Kentucky, are not involved with any church or student ministry. To me, this means that 70% of our 6th-12th grade students don’t have a relationship with Jesus. 30% do, and that’s great, but our work has been defined.
The mission of Students at The Mount (the name of the student ministry at Mount Olivet) is simple and identifies with the whole mission of the church: To lead students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. There are two key words here. First is lead. We can’t spoon-feed or drag students into a relationship with Jesus. We can lead them, though. Even further, students can lead other students into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is where the 30% comes in. The second word is growing. 8 out of 10 students leave the church and faith altogether after high school graduation. Our traditional youth ministry methods and efforts obviously haven’t worked. So our youth ministry now must look and be different. This is where “growing” comes in. Let’s equip 6th through 12th graders now with the knowledge, skills, and passion to continue their relationship with Jesus through their 18-22 years, into middle and late adulthood. We are intentional about our mission.
A mission is great to have, but if it isn’t placed into the context of a vision, then it isn’t that useful. So our vision (what we want to see happen within the next 5-10 years) is simple: To create a different student ministry that students want to belong to. Our mission will remain unchanged. Our vision is time specific, though. In 10 years, we will see where God is leading us at that point and probably shape another vision statement. There is something important about putting this down where you can see it. The reason behind this vision is shared in the previous paragraph; our student ministry must be different to achieve different results than the status quo. The student ministry of the 80s, 90s, or 2000s simply will not work today. If you don’t believe me, walk into any church with a fledgling youth ministry. They can do a lot of events and have fun, but the students continue to leave Christianity because their faith just doesn’t work anymore. My biggest prayer for Students at The Mount is that we don’t become a youth ministry that just has some fun and throws a little Bible in from time to time. My second prayer is that I don’t mess up what God is doing. Both will lead students into a diminishing relationship with Jesus, and that isn’t our mission!
Our mission and vision have to be accomplished through various strategies. To that end, I know that laser-sharp focus is necessary for effective ministry. Again, if you don’t believe me, walk into any church that starts groups/ministries/programs for every niche. They’re a sinking ship. So, we will focus on the following strategies to accomplish our mission and vision.
1. Irresistible environments. This might not seem like much, but it is. If a student walks into a dingy and dirty room that could double as a storage closet, they probably won’t be back. But if a student walks into an inviting environment where they are welcomed by friends and sense something going on, they will probably want to come back (and hopefully will bring a friend with them). This doesn’t just fall under room engineering, though. This is the responsibility of everyone involved with the student ministry. Smiles and positive attitudes go a long way. For Mount Olivet, it can be difficult. We eat dinner in a lobby and share space with every other ministry in the church. But we are slowly engineering every environment we are in to be one that is unique to students, whether it be through music, games that they can play upon arrival, and our leaders smiling and welcoming students as they arrive. It will only improve from here, too. This feeds into our mission and vision by giving students a different place (than typical youth ministry environments) to connect.
2. Small groups. Great things happen within the context of community. Students connect with each other and with leaders that want to see them grow in their relationships with Jesus. Even better than that, these groups create their own unique type of culture. Students might not want to share what they’re struggling with with their parents, but they can share it with their small group leader. They also get to put handles on what was just talked about in youth group. They can apply it to their own lives, process what it means, and hold each other accountable in the context of a small group. Those types of things typically don’t happen in a large group setting. So we love small groups! This feeds into our mission and vision quite obviously: it allows students to grow in their relationship with Jesus with others.
3. Middle school and high school retreats. I wanted to line this item out specifically. We pour a lot of emphasis on these retreats for a couple of reasons. First, students need an opportunity to disconnect from life as usual to focus on something spiritually. There’s more growth that can happen within a weekend at a retreat than can happen in a month’s worth of youth group meetings. Secondly, it allows students to connect with others that aren’t in their clicks and circles. In other words, it broadens their horizons. This is a good thing that can happen within an environment like a retreat. This is why we partner with churches like Williamstown Christian for events like this. It lets students see that they aren’t the only ones living out their faith at school, work, and home! Our mission and vision is accomplished when students can grow exponentially at retreats.
4. Connection events. Sometimes students that have never been to E4 (our Sunday night student gathering) don’t want to come because they’re intimidated. I completely understand as I am an introverted person. So we offer connection events that are completely fun and meant to help students connect with one another, building community. Things like game nights, bowling, baseball games, concerts, etc. all feed into this, as well as our mission and vision. The only fear I want to mention here is that we don’t want to become a youth group that is all about these types of events. We already know that a busy youth group isn’t necessarily a sign of a healthy youth group.
5. Partner with parents. We (SATM) have students for 2-3 hours a week, on average. The rest of the time is spent between work, school, and home. The bulk of that time, however, is spent at home. This is why we want to partner with parents and equip them to lead their students into a growing relationship with Jesus (see what I did there?). We know that what happens at home is more important and impactful than what happens at church, so let’s partner up.
Those strategies, obviously, help us accomplish our mission and vision. But how do we know if we are actually hitting the mark? Again, I’m glad you asked. We want to measure the wins, because we know that “wins” determine how we are doing. So the primary win is that a student is led to take ownership of their faith. This means that they are doing things that are also wins for us: reading their Bible daily, regularly attending church/E4, take the next steps in their faith (baptism, serving, etc.), investing into and inviting their friends, and showing excitement for what the student ministry does. If we can do these things, then I think we will be on the right track.
This is where we are going. This is the type of student ministry that I feel like God is engineering here at The Mount. Do you want to get involved? Awesome. Let me know. If not, please at least pray for us. This will be big, risky, and slightly crazy, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.