Youth Ministry That’s More Than Hype

I fell into a trap.

It was an honest mistake. I just wanted to get kids interested in my youth ministry. S0… announcements, games, and activities got louder and crazier. For a time we grew like a weed but just like a weed it began to choke all the healthy stuff we had worked so hard to develop. Our Friday youth night had become the place to meet up to go out and party. I wanted a group with energy and enthusiasm but I was done with the hype: Here’s what I discovered.

To begin I had to sort out what hype was and what it was not. That helped me to move forward.


What hype is not:

  • -noise, food and fun
  • -high energy activities
  • -emotional experiences
  • -excitement and enthusiasm

All of this is okay if they are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. They have to be connected to a well thought through, vision, mission, theology, strategy, long term and short term goals.


What do we mean by HYPE:

  • -excitement for excitement’s sake –it has no substance –doesn’t lead to anything better.
  • -bypassing the intellect resulting in emotional manipulation
  • -zeal without knowledge
  • -impulsive momentary commitment without counting the cost
  • -motivation (why) without training (how)
  • -using group dynamics to obtain objectives rather than personal commitment
  • -sensationalism, grandstanding that romanticizes the Christian life and sets students up for failure
  • -false sense of euphoria based on half truths and empty promises

The challenge is to make youth ministry attractive and effective in reaching a You Tube /  X Box generation,  jaded by information overload and suffering from over stimulation.

Possible Responses:

Here are some of the responses that I see in some youth ministries as they respond to the culture:

  1. Compete: do it better, play it louder, make it more available, make it Christian
  2. Reject: condemn the media, stress separation, resist temptation to use “worldly means”  -use methods, activities, media that the leader is comfortable with
  3. Go With the Flow:  programming loosely patterned after recent trends transforming them for use in evangelism and discipleship of youth.

A Better Way

To get beyond hype there needs to be substance to what we do. There needs to be reason behind what we do. Here is the connection between our rationale and resources to achieve the correct response and results.


Here are some things to consider to move beyond hype to greater substance to our ministries

more than hype table

Theology: Here are some elements to consider

  • -Scripture is the basis for everything
  • -incarnation is the model
  • -relational ministry is the method
  • -contextualization is essential
  • -leader is a servant not a star
  • -discipleship is the mandate

Philosophy: what makes youth ministry effective

  • -youth ministry is holistic-reaches the whole student
  • -youth ministry is developmental- considers maturity levels
  • -youth ministry is strategic- there is a plan to reach and disciple
  • -stress relationships- each student is connected to leaders
  • -stress meaningful experiences -students experience God
  • -stress involvement -students reach and disciple friends
  • -stress responsibility -students and leaders are committed to growth

Strategy: how to implement the Theology and Philosophy

  • -disciple believers- one to one or small groups
  • -train workers -recruit the right people and train them in relational ministry
  • -equip leaders -weekly in-service training and coaching
  • -reach in (disinterested church kids are pursued)
  • -reach out (curious unchurched kids are invited)

Program and Relationships

Leaders say: Think People Not Programs -design programs that meet the needs of your students and you are “thinking people” Programs provide a space for relationships to start and grow. Relationships include student-to-student and leader-to-student. Here are some ways to make programs and relationships more effective.

-one program for each level of spiritual maturity. This could include:

  • Outreach for community students once a month
  • Discipleship for believers 3 times a month -done in small groups or homes
  • Training for student and adult leaders before small groups each week
  • One on one discipleship programs for students with special needs in their discipleship journey


After that bad season of hype without spiritual growth, we held a vision retreat with all of the committed students. Together we got back on track with a focus on substance but without losing the enthusiasm and excitement. In fact students became even more excited but now it was excitement over seeing their friends attend and eventually put their faith in Jesus. There’s no amount of pizza or entertainment that will buy that kind of joy!

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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