Welcome to the practical, hands on guide on how to grow a church youth group!
Let me start by congratulating you for your desire to see God move in young people – it’s a very wonderful and worthwhile thing.
With youth I see all that yet untapped potential ready to burst out and it’s our job to bring those talents, giftings and callings out to the forefront.
The church needs the energy, passion and yes, even the unpolluted idealism of young people in order to truly thrive and become all it should be and could be.
I once heard someone say the church is as wide as a lake but only an inch deep, meaning unless we reach the next generation, the church could die with us.
Follow the principles I’m going to outline for you here and I know God is going to use you to make a difference in your youth group, your church and your local community.
A quick word on the ‘why’ before we get to the ‘how’
I promise we’re going to get to the nuts and bolts, ground-level stuff here, but let’s just take a second to think about the reason why you want to grow your church group.
The best place to start is with the end in mind; the ‘why’ always determines the ‘how’.
What’s your purpose for wanting to grow the youth and how does that fit in with your church’s mission statement?
Our church mission statement is simple and clear: reach, teach, mobilize.
Reach: We reach all people, in all places, at all times, using all possible means with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Teach: We’re way more than growth in numbers only; we make disciples and raise leaders.
Mobilize: We help young people discover their God-given talents and release them into their Great Commission destinies.
Once you know your vision, you can build a strategy around that vision.
The vision is the purpose but the strategy is the process by which you’re going to make the vision happen.
Your purpose and your process should always perfectly align. We need to be intentional about ministry to make sure what we’re spending our time and effort on will get us the results we’re after.
What I’m going to share with you today is the strategy and process we’ve used here in Sriracha, Thailand to grow our youth group from scratch to between 30-40 young people in 6 months.
Let’s get to it!
Here are the 3 elements you need to grow your church youth group:
1. Do fun stuff together (reach)
Getting new faces into your group is your starting point.
Though I could give you a whole list of evangelism ideas, by far the most effective way of getting new people into the group is for your existing members to invite them.
Once a week or once a month, have a fun event that everyone’s going to enjoy.
For us this was Sunday afternoons straight after church between 1-3pm.
We made a deal with our youth – rather than separating them out of the main service we said if stayed for the worship and preaching we would do something fun afterwards.
Is this bribery? Probably, yes – but it worked!
So here just a few of things we might get up to, to give you an idea:
- Fun activities in the park
- Coffee shop
- Karaoke competition
- Games day at church
- A walk about and an ice-cream
- Film and pizza night
Check out these 10 Church Youth Group Game And Activities for more ideas.
Give your youth simple tools to invite their friends
Ensure everyone has a good time, encourage them to invite their friends each week and your youth will grow organically.
What I do is print out a small, simple flyer for each month. It’s simple, it’s low budget and effective.
Start equipping your young people with the tools they need to invite their friends.
Free sites like Canva.com make it easy to produce something like this:
It’s all about building a community
Whatever you do, it doesn’t need to be expensive. Whether you have a youth budget or not, keep it cheap and cheerful.
You don’t need to make it complicated either. More than anything the young people just love just hanging out together.
A youth group is not just a once a week meeting; it’s a community of people doing life together.
A strong youth group is only as strong as the friendships within it, so be intentional about creating a sense of community and belonging. Give time for your young people to build stronger relationships, closer friendships.
For youth who are 16+, allot time and invite them out for a coffee. Try and meet with everyone one-on-one at least once a month, this is especially true when you’re looking to raise leaders.
When you build genuine relationships with these young people they’ll know you actually care. You’ll see them naturally open up, they’ll tell you what their wildest dreams and deepest fears are. You’ll be able to spot gaps in their knowledge and identify future topics for teaching and training.
2. Start weekly small groups (teach)
Once you have a strong and welcoming community, it’s time to move it to the next level with small groups.
I love small groups so much!
They’re the best way to move past the social and get on to real disciple making.
In How To Run A Bible Study (Even If You Never Have Before) I walk you through how you can structure your weekly small groups.
There are 4 or 5 elements we normally include:
- Social time before
- An Icebreaker
- Bible study
- Social time after
Personally I avoid meeting in the church. Try and find someone wiling to host a group in their house or take them to a coffee shop.
Before starting small groups we had young people coming to church week after week but had never had a relationship with God, never had a personal encounter with Jesus.
Almost all of our young people have been Christians for less than a year and came from Buddhist backgrounds so they had no biblical foundation.
I needed to provide a space for them to be free to ask questions and grapple with the big issues.
We needed to cover all of the basics of what happened in the fall, why sin is such an issue, why we need salvation, what water baptism is and why we go to church at all.
The last thing I wanted was for me to be doing all the talking at the front with everyone else listening, so we translated The Purple Book – simply the best Bible study guide for new believers I’ve ever come across.
The lessons are designed to be interactive with fill in the blanks, scripture look-ups, open-ended questions and conversation starters.
Our young people love it! All of those phrases we so casually throw out suddenly had meaning. The Bible started making sense and they could see clearly God’s plan for salvation with their own eyes.
If you’re serious about creating young disciples who take God at His Word and apply it to their lives then small groups is definitely the way to do it.
Growing your youth group is more than numbers, yes that’s part of the story but not the whole story. People always say quality or quantity but with a youth small group network you can have both.
3. Give them opportunities to serve (mobilize)
The 3rd and final step in growing your church youth group is to give your young people opportunities to serve.
If you’re running around doing everything, it’s going to limit growth. You only have so many hours in the day, so much energy you can give before burning out.
The truth is if you want to grow, you need to start raising leaders. Start with small jobs you know they can handle and work up from there.
Young people don’t have to be leaders of tomorrow, they can be leaders today.
This is why I’m so serious about giving young people responsibility as soon as possible.
I don’t care if it’s their first week (maybe especially if it is!) I give them something to do, an area they can take ownership of.
This gives your precious young people space to grow and develop, feel involved and a sense of pride knowing they have their part to play.
Train your older youth to become peer leaders for the younger ones. Start with having the young people help you lead games until they can lead them themselves.
In your small groups have someone who can strum a guitar lead your time of worship. Have them come up with and lead the icebreaker. Give them 5 minutes to share their testimony.
In the church have them welcome people at the door, sing backing vocals in the worship team, help out with the kids church program. Organise a youth Sunday, have them perform a special drama.
Find out what they’re good at, what they love to do, give them a chance and be gracious if they mess up, it’s all part of the learning process.
Over to you
Whatever your youth group looks like right now, whether you have to build it from the ground up or have a small core group to start with, know this – because of the work you’re doing many young people are going to encounter their Creator God in a life-changing way.
Here’s an amazing testimony of how God completely transformed the life of one of the young men in our group here in Thailand. God is so good!
The fatherless will meet Daddy God and never be the same.
Those who feel alone and isolated will be brought into a family.
Your young people will learn to devour the Word and apply it to their lives.
Your youth will become unashamed worshipers who love His presence.
They’ll become leaders in their own right and find their destiny and life’s purpose in God.
I mean, this is why we do what we do right? :)
So never grow weary in doing good!
The fact you’ve read to the very end of this post shows you have a heart to work with the youth and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. God bless you!
I really hope this 3 step process helps you to see how you can grow your church youth group. Let us know if you have any questions or ideas of your own you’d like to share in the discussion below. I’d love to hear from you!