When pastors strategize and research how to grow a thriving youth ministry, they’re often met with nothing but numbers. It’s easy to get caught up in the perceived (and sometimes real) pressure that you should have a certain number of students attending your youth group and events. While numbers are important, successful youth ministries are also marked by spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.
But how does a pastor measure spiritual development, specifically youth spiritual growth? There are six signs to look for: church attendance, repentance, prayer, Bible study, evangelism, and serving.
Spiritually Growing Christians Go to Church
One of the first signs of youth spiritual growth is church attendance followed by increasing levels of participation. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. But regularly attending church can be a sign of:
- Genuine faith or at least interest in the Gospel
- A nonbeliever beginning to sense the Holy Spirit’s conviction
Maybe you’re not seeing spiritual fruit in one of your students, but the fact that he or she keeps showing up may be a very good sign.
Attendance is often the first step. The next is increasing levels of participation. Are your students only coming to church because their parents make them? Or are they participating in games and worship? Some students may only attend church to socialize, but one of the ways you can gauge their spiritual maturity is by observing how engaged they are. See if they’re answering and asking questions during the small group time and paying attention during sermons instead of staring at their phones.
Growing Christians Repent and Find Their Identity in Christ
When a person first puts their trust in Jesus, they repent in this sense – ”change their mind about sin, self, and savior” (Doug Holliday). After they’ve entered this relationship the Holy Spirit begins to help them change their behaviors and thoughts as one of the first steps in spiritual development.
A mature Christian understands that this change to our thoughts and behaviors through our relationship with God is an ongoing process, not a one-time deal. Jesus taught us to ask for forgiveness of our sins daily (link to Lord’s prayer). You can model this to your students by talking about your own mistakes and shortcomings and how you work them out with God in prayer!
Another sign of youth spiritual growth is how a student describes their Christian identity. Does your student describe himself or herself as a Christian? When they do, do they ever talk about a time when they repented (changed their thinking) and placed their trust in Jesus? One of the ways students can express this identity is through baptism and publicly proclaiming their faith: it’s another signal of growing spiritual maturity.
Prayer is Key to Spiritual Growth
Christians should pray, and as new believers are growing in their faith, they need help learning how to do this. Not every Christian does it consistently, feels he or she is “good” at it, or even claims to enjoy it, but it is still important. We know growing spiritually happens through prayer because we’re instructed all throughout Scripture to pray.
God is our Father and His Son is our Bridegroom. That means claiming to be a Christian who doesn’t pray is like having a loving parent you never speak with or being married and never talking to your spouse. Who wouldn’t want to communicate with the most important people in their life?
Ultimately, you can never know about your students’ personal prayer time. But you can try to observe them praying aloud in church or talking about their prayer requests being answered. You can also ask them about their prayer life and try to speak with them about it. As they continue to grow, help them begin to practice intercessory prayer for their friends (who are not Christians) to accept the Gospel.
Spiritually Mature Christians Read the Bible
New believers often need help understanding how to read and value the Bible. Get them started in one of the Gospel books so they don’t get stuck in Leviticus or some of the prophets which can be confusing and difficult to digest.
Christians should desire to understand more about God and the best way to do this is growing in their ability to read the Bible. The psalmist wrote that the godly delight and meditate on the law day and night (Psalm 1:2). David added that the law is worth more than gold and is sweeter than honeycomb (Psalm 19:10). In the New Testament, the Bereans are exalted for searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).
Reading and studying the Bible daily isn’t a legalistic box to check: it’s vital for the spiritual growth of every single Christian. Like prayer, you can’t observe if your students are reading the Bible in their personal time. But you can help them understand how to read the Bible and check in on their devotionals or listen to them make connections in Bible study. Also – make sure they have a Bible!
Sharing the Gospel is an Important Part of Spiritual Development
Evangelism is something that Jesus makes clear in Matthew 28:19-20 is an important part of the Christian life. Christians who are growing spiritually will be convicted by the Holy Spirit to share the Gospel. They may not “want to” in the sense of being excited about it. But they will increasingly desire to see people get saved and share in this new experience they are having.
This starts with a heart for the lost. Spiritual development means sanctification or being conformed to the image of Christ. Becoming like Jesus is the exact opposite of indifference towards nonbelievers on their way to eternal separation from God. If Jesus loves people enough to sacrifice His life for them, being molded into a Jesus-follower means wanting more and more people to enter a relationship with Him.
Love for the lost should begin with prayer and involve care and conversation. Teach your students how to have Gospel conversations with their peers and then follow up by asking how that is going. Pay attention to who’s inviting their friends to church. Organize local, out-of-state, and international mission trips with the primary focus being evangelism, not just service.
Youth Spiritual Growth Goes Hand in Hand with Serving
We’re often so desperate to get teenagers into church that we try to do everything for them. The youth leaders take care of the sound booth, slide show, etc., and the students show up and hopefully participate. While part of being a youth leader means having specific tasks to fulfill, we must remember that teenagers thrive when given responsibility. It’s a message that without them, church wouldn’t function as effectively. They’re just as much a part of the body of Christ as adults are.
Serving can be during youth group, but it shouldn’t be confined there. Students can serve during the Sunday adult service with the media team, worship band, nursery, and more. One church in Singapore actually lets students run the technology behind their entire service to keep Gen Z engaged.
Serving can also take place outside Sundays and Wednesdays, and even church itself. Students can be Vacation Bible School leaders for example (some churches even have youth groups organize and facilitate entire VBS programs). Depending on their age, they can volunteer at Christian-based pregnancy centers or food banks. Teens can also be the perfect social media strategists for your church. No matter where the serving occurs, a servant’s heart is another sign of growing spiritually because Jesus was the ultimate Servant.
How Youth Leaders Can Remember What Matters in Ministry
Even when focusing on youth spiritual growth and maturity, it’s hard not to get caught up in the wrong focus or the wrong numbers. It’s not about achieving a numerical goal but measuring Biblical outcomes can be very helpful in knowing where your students are in their discipleship needs, what kind of overall reach you are having, and seeing movement towards the bold vision God has given you. The book of Acts is full of counting when it comes to things like baptisms, salvations, etc. and we should be too – as long as our motivation is biblically based.
Remember why you entered youth ministry – to see teenagers get saved, discipled, and lead others to Jesus. Remember, Satan wants you to see your students as just numbers, not people. He wants you to look at church as a business and shift your gaze away from God.
So, concentrate on spiritual development. Begin to associate the word “growth” with sanctification. Additionally, partner with like-minded youth leaders who have switched their focus from simply how many seats are filled to discipling students who are on fire for God and burdened for the lost. Become a Gospel Advancing leader and join countless leaders dedicated to transforming students into passionate evangelists.
Spiritual Growth FAQs
One sign of a Christian who is growing spiritually is regular church attendance and engagement. There are other signs like an active prayer life, reading the Bible regularly, and serving in church.
One great way that Youth leaders can help Christians grow is by making sure they have a Bible and teaching them how to study it.
Spiritually mature Christians pray because they have a relationship with God, and when you have a relationship with someone you love, you want to be in constant communication with them. Prayer is how we communicate with God.
Yes! Spiritually mature and growing Christians will have a desire to tell the lost the Gospel. Even if they are nervous or afraid, they will want to tell their peers about Jesus.