Context is everything. We understand this to be true about biblical studies, quotes from our favorite athletes, and lines from movies. But the same is true in our ministries. Context is everything.
As we seek to be the best leaders and youth ministers we can possibly be, it is vital that we consider our own church’s context. Demographics, geography, economics, and past experiences all play a huge role in our every day decision-making.
My hope is that this post will encourage you to think through your own context when it comes to programming, ministry, and communication. By considering our context, we can be far more effective in our local churches. Here are some basic truths to remember as you think through your own church culture and context.
1. One size does NOT fit all
Sometimes, it can be tempting to grab the latest program ideas or curriculum from a famous church and plug them into our own ministries. While many resources, including our own YouthMin.org, offer high quality resources, let me encourage you to avoid the “plug and play” mentality. The program that works amazingly well at Saddleback or Northpoint may not work at your rural church in the Midwest. Likewise, while the Truth of the Gospel never changes, the nuances of what your students need to hear at this moment may vary. For this reason, even when using curriculum, put in the work (prayer and effort) to make it fit your context and, in turn, be most effective for your ministry.
2. Youth Ministry is just a PART of the local church Body
News flash: your youth ministry will not be effective if it is only concerned with students. Your youth group is tied to your local church Body in so many ways that it would be foolish and naive to ignore the rest of your congregation when planning events, programs, and teaching series. Your ministry will be most effective when you consider the larger picture of your local church.
What is the culture of your church? What are you doing to get parents and other generations involved in your youth ministry? How do your programs fit with your church schedule? Do they fit well so that parents aren’t traveling more than they should? How is what you teach dovetailing with the messages your students are hearing in service? Do your ministries help students easily transition into the larger church Body after they graduate? Consider your congregation and everyone involved as you plan your youth ministry calendar. And remember, submitting to those in authority over you is a biblical concept.
3. The comparison game
A church nearby has a huge Sunday school gathering of students every week. If I handed out $100 bills to students for attending our Sunday school program, they still wouldn’t show up. Another church offers separate programs at different times on Sunday nights for Middle school and High school. But almost all of their families live within about 5-7 minutes of the church. Their demographic is far different than mine.
Youth Ministers are notorious for playing the comparison game. We love to talk about numbers, our success stories, and our greatest achievements. This epidemic leads to us spinning our wheels, chasing after better numbers, more engagement, and more successful programs. Those things aren’t bad, but the motivation of trying to catch up to the church down the street IS harmful. Stop comparing yourself and your ministry to others and consider your own context.
4. Longevity matters
The best way to learn your context is to become ingrained in your local church for the long haul. Moving from one church to another every 18 months will make it very difficult to consider the context and be most effective. As you stay in your church throughout the years, good times and bad, you will learn more about your fellow staff members, church leaders, demographics, church culture, past experiences, and a host of other contextual influences that can help you create the most effective ministry possible. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again – commit to your church for the long haul. You’ll be glad you did.
Context matters. Considering your larger context, what changes might you need to make in your youth ministry? How could you maximize your effectiveness in your specific context? How can you make your youth ministry a more integral part of your local church Body? What contextual questions do you need to be asking?
Keep pressing on!