11 Strategic Steps to Build a Thriving Youth Ministry

Strategic thinking gets results.

You may have a vision or a dream for your group but can you see the steps to get there?

If you’re watching numbers tank and things aren’t working out the way you hoped, there may be a hole in your strategy. Here are strategic steps to build a thriving youth ministry.

Jesus had a strategy. Joshua had a strategy. Nehemiah had a strategy…. how’s yours? Here’s one that works for youth ministry.

Outline of the Strategy:

  1. Carefully evaluate the present situation:
  2. Cast a vision for the youth ministry
  3. Prepare the right environment for growth.
  4. Train Leaders (youth and committed adults who can relate to youth) who desire more
  5. Create Multiple Avenues for Entrance into the Youth Group:
  6. Institute a Program of One-on-One Discipleship
  7. Work directly with parents of teens
  8. Create opportunities for involvement
  9. Establish a presence in the high schools and junior highs or middle schools.
  10. Program for opportunities for extended times together and spiritual retreats.
  11. Establish nurture groups:

If you would like to see how the rest of this works keep reading or read up on a step that you aren’t making the most of yet:

  1. Carefully evaluate the present situation:

Pre-packaged programs, ideal ministry models, what is working a thousand miles away will never work in your context.

A long, detailed process of evaluation, “understanding the story” (Leith Anderson) as told by those who know it is essential. This evaluation entails every aspect of the church and the community.

  1. Cast a vision for the youth ministry

Wait upon God. Consult with the senior pastor. Search the word of God. Fast and pray. Recognise your strengths as a leader, be true to your philosophy of ministry, respond to the pressing needs of the group with direction that you can share with the leadership of the church, the youth ministry, and the community. Vision must translate into workable programs and goals. 

  1. Prepare the right environment for growth.

All outreach efforts will be useless if the youth group is a dysfunctional, closed, apathetic group. New members will only be abused and rejected in such a group. Objectives should be:

  • to get love flowing in the group (try monthly home meetings, group outings, sharing times -see Denny Rydbergs’s, Building Community in Youth Groups for a effective process),
  • develop an identity for the group,
  • inspire the youth to own the vision God has given you. (When teens are excited about inviting their friends to the youth events, the image, identity, and ownership problems have likely been addressed.)
  • Correct any wrong concepts youth may have concerning grace, discipleship, and the word of God.
  • Lay ground rules for expected behaviour. (The atmosphere in many youth groups is destroyed because of lack of discipline by the leader.
  • Sometimes youth workers try to relate by acting like teenagers. This is a serious mistake. The Youth Pastor is not a big kid. Improve the reputation of the youth group among the youth of the community.
  • Make positive connections with church members, community leaders, and youth (e.g. involvement in the High School or other community agencies.) In-reach must also take place. That is reaching the kids who have grown up in the church since childhood but at some point have stopped growing and resist Christ’s call to follow.
  1. Train Leaders

That is, youth and committed adults who can relate to youth) who desire more of God and desire to be effective in peer ministry and reaching their unsaved friends. ( I oppose the idea of an elected group of youth executives. This is a worldly business model and has no place in the Body of Christ.)

Leadership is based on their desire to serve and evidence of having shown themselves to be responsible, available, faithful and teachable when volunteering in areas of the ministry.

(When selecting leaders I normally select those who are willing to pray with me one hour a week before the service.)

Leaders serve the youth and minister to others rather than just doing planning or setting up chairs etc. (Volunteers and other youth with lower levels of commitment often enjoy these tasks if proper recognition is given and they understand the purpose of the task)

  1. Create Multiple Avenues for Entrance into the Youth Group:

A regular large event (once a month) will attract certain kinds of kids who like the type of activity your run or the music you play. That is only one way to meet and reach the friends of teens in your group.

  • An afternoon drop in program at the church, or a high school Bible study is another way.
  • Tutoring programs, for struggling teens, may also be another avenue.
  • Teens can be trained to do video outreaches in their homes.
  • Monthly home fellowship meetings may also draw different kinds of kids as well as improving the atmosphere in the group.
  • Support groups may work for some kinds of kids.
  • Service projects can also enlist the help of non-Christian teens: many will help visit seniors, volunteer with the youth at a food bank, help out in a coat drive, or even a car wash or a starve a thon to raise money for the poor, clean seniors homes, act in a play help build a church or a run a play day for children.
  • Church sport teams may also draw athletic kids who aren’t already on city leagues. By finding needs in the community and designing ministries to meet these needs can be an extremely effective form of evangelism. If the Christian youth run these ministries they will grow stronger in their faith. 
  1. Institute a Program of One-on-One Discipleship

A program of peer and pastoral discipleship should be organized to disciple new converts and teens with special needs. This will prevent youth from slipping through the cracks in the youth program. (I have used this with kids who were older, were having conflicts with the youth group, overcoming an addiction, etc..) One program that has been successful in this area has been -Onward Bound -by Duffy Robbins in Programming to Make disciples.

  1. Work directly with parents of teens

God’s desire and design was that discipleship begin in the home (cf. Deuteronomy chapter 6) The influence of parents upon the spiritual nurture of their children will exceed by far the influence of the youth pastor. (Mark Senter III)

Good youth ministry means building strong godly families. Too often youth ministries function as an alternative to families or in direct opposition to them. Helping parents in their role may be the best thing youth ministers can do to achieve lasting fruit in the ministry.

  1. Create opportunities for involvement

maximum involvement equals maximum growth. Short term mission trips, drama teams, outreach projects, and other areas of service by youth have long been billed as the most transforming experiences for teens. Jesus had the disciples directly involved in his ministry.

The reason: learn by doing. Without fail the student in my ministry who are still growing today over ten years later, are the ones who became involved in outreach, in-reach and service to others.

  1. Establish a presence in the high schools and junior highs or middle schools.

I continue to contend that if a teen is not a Christian at school that teen is not a Christian at all. By supporting the local high school Christian group, or starting a program if there is none the youth worker models the kind of involvement expected from the youth group members. Opportunities for meeting teens, and increasing the relevance of the youth ministry abound on campus.

  1. Program for opportunities for extended times together and spiritual retreats.

In a recent Group Magazine survey of 1000 Christian teens it was determined that retreats and camps were more effective than anything youth ministries did to reach or nurture spiritual growth in teens.

Although they require planning money and many hours of work for the youth worker, retreats are more effective than youth talks or Bible studies and are therefore worth the outlay of effort.

  1. Establish nurture groups:

As the group gets larger it must get smaller. In other words teens always need to feel like if they do not attend they will be missed. Local nurture groups meeting in homes accomplish a number of very important objectives:

  • there is sense of belonging and connectedness,
  • there is a sense of ownership,
  • there is attention given to the particular needs of the individuals,
  • there is opportunity for interaction with volunteers and peer leaders,
  • and all of the members of the body can contribute.

Be Strategic with Short and Long Term Goals

You can’t get all of these things up and running at once but as you invest your time and energy in these strategic ways you will see greater health, strength and growth.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com


  1. I really like your tip to establish nurture groups. Having a youth ministry grow is a great thing, but when the group gets larger some kids can start to feel lost. I think having smaller groups is a great idea. What is the best way to arrange these groups? Would age. location, or interest be a good idea? thanks for all this helpful information!

    • Thanks for your comments April!!

      I have normally gone with school grade and gender. I find in the junior high years girls are about 2 years ahead of the boys so it is best to keep them separate. The other reason to separate by gender is so that they will be more likely to bond over similar issues.


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