How to Grow a Thriving Youth Ministry
Your guide to a youth ministry that makes an eternal impact.
Whether you have two or twenty years of youth ministry experience, you probably have the same burning question:
How do I grow a thriving youth ministry?
We all want ministries that leave an eternal impact. We want to see the fruit of our efforts showcased in students who genuinely love Jesus and the Gospel message. But turning our desire for an effective, thriving ministry into an action plan can be easier said than done.
To answer this big question, we first need to know what defines a thriving youth ministry, and then learn how to get there. Let’s start with looking at what makes a successful youth ministry.
The Marks of a Successful Youth Ministry
Biblically speaking, a successful youth ministry is one that reflects the same health and growth that the Early Church displayed:
- Students are actively growing in their love for Jesus.
- Students are gaining deeper understanding of God’s Word and how to apply it.
- Students have been trained to share the Gospel message, and many are regularly sharing their faith.
- Lost teens in your community are being prayed for, engaged with, and then discipled by your students.
At the end of the day, youth ministry is about making disciples who make disciples. A truly effective ministry isn’t always the one with the most kids showing up every week, but the one with students who are committed Christ-followers and who are inviting their friends to follow Him, too.
Why the World Needs Thriving Youth Ministries
For the past few decades, we’ve seen a failing youth ministry strategy that leads to teens abandoning their faith once they reach young adulthood. As Dare 2 Share’s founder Greg Stier puts it:
“…not only are we failing to capture the hearts of the lost young people ‘out there’—we’re also failing to keep the hearts of our own youth group graduates committed to Jesus over the long haul.”
Recent research from the Barna Group shows that commitment to Jesus drops off massively in young adulthood. In fact, the number of U.S. teens who identify as committed Christians drops from 32% in high school to 17% once they reach young adulthood. That means almost half of teenagers who say they love Jesus abandon their faith as young adults!
Often, the influence of college and lack of spiritual leadership in young adults’ lives leads to them put their faith to the side. And if their faith was just nominal to begin with, it can become nonexistent once they’re out of a discipleship environment.
The need for Gospel-centered, spiritually thriving youth ministries is as dire as ever. We need ministries that are focused on discipleship and faith-retention, helping kids truly love Jesus, know the Word of God, and be burdened to share the Gospel with others.
Top Tactics for an Effective Youth Ministry
So, we know what a thriving youth ministry is supposed to look like. We know what threats we’re facing and why the situation is desperate. Now, let’s look at how to grow a thriving youth ministry that keeps students grounded in their love for Jesus for the long haul.
1. Prayer: A Flourishing Ministry Starts Here
It’s human nature to want to take action and control outcomes in our own power. But prayer teaches us as believers that outcomes are up to God. He’s in control, and it’s His power through the Holy Spirit that creates thriving ministries that advance His kingdom!
As we seek to grow healthy youth ministries, we can’t begin with strategies and programming until we’ve turned to God for His help and empowerment. The lives and eternal destinies of teens can’t be changed without God’s hand at work, so prayer is our first resort when pursuing a thriving ministry.
In fact, intercessory prayer is the very first value of a Gospel Advancing Ministry because it lays the foundation for everything else. And when we invite students into prayer with us, they gain exposure to its incredible power and how God will work through them when they start by asking Him for help.
Dare 2 Share founder Greg Stier explains the power of intercessory prayer below.
2. Evangelism Training: Don’t Keep the Gospel to Yourself
When Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission, He didn’t intend for His command to “go and make disciples of all nations” to end with those eleven disciples. He was commissioning all who would respond to His Gospel message to go out and share it with the rest of the world, including your students!
Making the Great Commission the main goal of your youth ministry is crucial if you want to see students spiritually thrive and bring others to Christ. So where do you start? With practical, relational evangelism training.
Evangelism training begins with Gospel literacy. Do your students know how to articulate the Gospel to someone who’s never heard it? One of the best tools you can give students to both learn the Gospel thoroughly and share it easily is the Life in 6 Words G.O.S.P.E.L. acrostic. This acrostic clearly and simply explains the entirety of the Gospel message and is easy to remember. Here’s Greg Steir explaining how to share the Gospel using the acrostic.
Use the Life in 6 Words mobile app to train students to share the Gospel and keep track of Gospel conversations.
Once students know the Gospel message backward and forward, they need opportunities to share it with others. This is where evangelism training gets real—when students have a real-life conversation sharing their hope in Jesus.
To incorporate evangelism training into your weekly programming, you can have students practice Gospel conversations with each other, giving hypothetical scenarios and worldviews to navigate. Dare 2 Share also offers two powerful evangelism training events every year for students: Dare 2 Share LIVE and Lead THE Cause. With these events, teens are encouraged, equipped, and commissioned to go into their world and share the love of Christ with others.
When we talk about a thriving youth ministry, we’re talking about a ministry that consistently sees new teens come to know Jesus. This is why evangelism training is so important — because students have exponentially greater influence with their peers than adults do. They’re in the best position to share the Gospel in a way that hits home for their unbelieving friends.
Download our guide “How to Prioritize Relational Evangelism in Your Youth Ministry” — the second value of a Gospel Advancing Ministry.
3. Discipleship Training: Thriving Ministries Multiply
Have you ever heard the “moldy sponge” analogy when it comes to the Christian walk? When a sponge soaks up a bunch of water but is never wrung back out, it gets moldy. A lot of Christians are like moldy sponges—soaking up tons of good theological teaching, training, and encouragement, but never letting themselves be wrung back out to pour into others.
God never meant for His people to be moldy sponges. What we are given, He wants us to pour our into others so we can multiply ourselves! This is the heart behind a disciple multiplication strategy that is one of the defining characteristics of a thriving, effective youth ministry.
This is actually Value #4 of a Gospel Advancing Ministry: “A disciple multiplication strategy guides it.” A healthy youth ministry is going to see students invest into the lives of their peers, multiplying the Gospel message in the hearts of those around them. If you need guidance on helping students understand disciple multiplication, check out Greg Stier’s explanation of it below and download our guide on “How to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples.”
4. Casting Vision: Help Students See the End Goal
A large part of getting others on board with a mission is casting vision. When people can see a clear goal and what part they can play in achieving it, they’ll go all in and make the vision their own.
The same principle is true for youth ministry. When you provide a bold vision for your students, they’ll see that the whole point of this youth group thing is to come together to love Jesus, learn about His Gospel message, and be equipped to share it with the lost world around us. Greg Stier explains the power and necessity of casting a bold vision below (Value #5 of a Gospel Advancing Ministry).
Don’t keep your vision for a thriving youth ministry to yourself. Share it with your students. Let them in on the mission to reach the lost and equip them to make the mission their own. After all, it’s the vision Jesus casts for all Christians, and we want teens to take it seriously now so it can remain their vision throughout the rest of their lives.
5. Focus on the Right Numbers
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again — a thriving youth ministry does not have to be the biggest or the busiest youth ministry!
We’re all tempted to look at success measurements that are the easiest to see: attendance numbers, how many events and programs are on the calendar, etc. But we serve a God who is always after the heart, not the activity. What God has laid out for us in Scripture is that He is looking for people who are growing in their love for Him, in their sanctification, in the fruit of the Spirit, and in their impact for His Kingdom!
So instead of looking at the obvious external measurements of success, focus on numbers like:
- How many students are trained to share the Gospel?
- How many new students have come to your group as a result of a friend sharing the Gospel or inviting them to church?
- How many kids are choosing to go all in with Jesus, getting baptized, and are being discipled?
These are biblical outcomes that will give you a much better indication of how spiritually healthy and effective your ministry is. Measuring your youth ministry this way will help you filter every program and lesson through your ultimate goal: for teens to know Jesus and share the Gospel.
And if you’re seeing outcomes like students living consistent lives for Jesus and sharing their faith with their friends, you can rest assured that you’re on the right track toward the type of ministry God is cheering on. Greg Stier explains Gospel Advancing Value #6, “Biblical outcomes measure it,” below.
Measuring your youth ministry by biblical outcomes takes a shift in perspective. Download our guide on “Counting What Really Counts” to get started.
6. Make Every Meeting Evangelistic
Practically speaking, how do we lead ministries every week that empower teens to live for Christ and share the Gospel? Well, if you want a ministry that’s marked by evangelism, that’s what you’ve got to incorporate into every meeting!
This doesn’t mean you need to take students out to do street evangelism every week. But there are many simple ways you can bring evangelism to the forefront of your programming and your students’ minds.
- Work on Gospel literacy.
- Go over the Life in 6 Words G.O.S.P.E.L. acrostic with your students.
- Have Gospel conversation practice during youth group.
- Split students up into groups or pairs, give them a scenario, and have them practice a Gospel conversation.
- Pray for unbelievers that students know.
- Break students into groups to pray for the lost that God has put on their heart.
- Spend time updating your group “Cause Circle” on the Life in 6 Words app.
- Share Gospel conversation stories with the group.
- Have both your leaders and students share their wins and fails of Gospel conversations to encourage others to be bold!
Focusing on evangelism every single week might be a big shift from your usual programs and lessons. Maybe you’re teaching through a series on dating, doctrine, or David and Goliath right now. All of those topics are super important for teens to learn about, but they become even more meaningful when we remind students of their mission and why we encourage them to live for Christ.
Your students have been saved for a reason: to love Jesus and share Him with others for the rest of their lives! This is the message we want to remind them of every week. And when you do, big, biblical things begin to happen. Worship, prayer, and relationships with Jesus get stronger, and the burden to reach others with the Gospel becomes the most important thing. Don’t miss out on the beauty of focusing on evangelism!
7. Focus on the 7 Values of a Gospel Advancing Ministry
We’ve talked about a few of the 7 Values of a Gospel Advancing Ministry, but all seven being used together are the ideal recipe for a flourishing ministry that brings students into Jesus’s purpose for their lives.
Here are the 7 Values again, laid out in order:
- Intercessory prayer fuels it.
- Relational evangelism drives it.
- Leaders fully embrace and model it.
- Disciple multiplication strategy guides it.
- A bold vision focuses it.
- Biblical outcomes measure it.
- Ongoing programs reflect it.
You might be implementing some or most of these values already, which means you’re well on your way to leading a Gospel Advancing Ministry. You can diagnose where you are in the Gospel Advancing journey along with the health and effectiveness of your ministry with this quick Gospel Advancing assessment.
If you’re in youth ministry, we already know you have a burden and passion to see teens know Jesus and share their faith with their friends. The best way for you to jump-start your youth ministry and help it thrive like never before is to commit to becoming a Gospel Advancing leader.
If you’re ready to see the eternal impact you’ve been praying for, we’ve got a clear roadmap for you: the 5 stages of a Gospel Advancing ministry. We want to help guide your youth ministry toward massive Kingdom impact in the lives of your students and their friends, and we’re here for you in every step of the Gospel Advancing journey