As a young youth minister, one of my greatest challenges was knowing what to do with my youth council or youth ministry team. At the Center for Youth Ministry Training (CYMT), we experience this challenge with all of our residents. Youth ministers often inherit dysfunctional youth ministry teams or are tasked with starting one from scratch.
Youth councils or youth ministry teams come in three main types:

  1. A group of adults appointed by the church to make sure YOU do your job (oops, I mean help you do your job), or
  2. A group of adults and youth who DECIDE what the youth ministry should do, or (if you’re lucky)
  3. A group of adults and possibly youth who partner with the youth minister to HELP the church’s vision for youth ministry become a reality.

From here on, I’m going to refer to this group of folks as “youth ministry team” to avoid confusion. “Team” implies we are all working together. “Council” implies giving advice or talking about things. Simply changing the name of your group does nothing.

Step 1: Understand That You Need a Team

My biggest problem in my early years was that I didn’t know what I was doing, so telling my youth team what to do or asking for help simply didn’t happen. I believed the youth ministry was my job. So I would come up with great ideas and sell them to the team for approval.
And this worked fine while my youth group was smaller, but as it grew I needed more help. Many small church youth ministers continue to work this way. What’s the problem? Ownership! Who will keep this program running when you leave? When your ideas are gone?
I needed a team because the ministry was growing, but I needed to create a team so that the ministry would move forward when I was gone. I needed to realize it wasn’t my ministry to begin with.
You need a team. You and your team need to share a vision for where the youth ministry is headed. You and your team need to share the responsibility for making that vision happen.

Step 2: Building Your Team

At my church, the nominating committee approves who serves on each team. Left to their own accord, they will ask anyone who will say “yes” to serve on your team. If you don’t get to create your own team, you need to be proactive and take to the nominating committee and your pastor a list of those who you would like to serve on your team. They will be grateful for the help. You may not get everyone you want, but if you give them enough people to choose from, I’m confident you’ll get people on your list.
Who should you ask? Ask people who believe in youth ministry who are DOERS! These folks are likely to tell you they don’t want to be on a committee. They don’t like simply giving their opinion or talking about things. They like to get things done. Great, because you have more to do than you can by yourself. You need a team to help you get things done. Once you train them they’ll be perfect!
How big a group? I personally think four to six doers is perfect for youth group of 20 to 30. But no matter how large your group is, the team shouldn’t be larger than 12. Your youth ministry team should be made up of adults with perhaps a couple of youth representatives. Student leadership should happen in more hands-on ways.

Step 3:  Define the Team’s Role

Before your first meeting, clearly define the role of the youth ministry team.  Create a youth ministry team member job description and covenant. Click here for some good articles from Jacob Fasig on Job Descriptions and Covenants. Here’s a sample.
If possible have these on hand when you ask someone to be on the team, or give them to the nominating committee so that they can share them with those they invite.
Your team job descriptions should include things like:

  • Meeting attendance expectations
  • Praying for the ministry
  • Telling one positive story per week about the ministry
  • Serving as the major event coordinator or co-coordinator during the upcoming year or serving in an ongoing volunteer role in the ministry
  • Being a youth ministry advocate to another ministry team in the church: finance, trustees, discipleship team, etc.

At your first meeting use these documents to cast a vision for what you want the team to be and invite them to hold you accountable for keeping it that way (it’s easy for them to backslide into an advisory council).

Step 4:  Dream and Plan Together

If you are the only one who prays, dreams, and plans for God’s vision in the youth ministry, then you are the only one with true ownership. Your team must be a part of this process as well (you should invite other key volunteers to participate) so that there is wider ownership of the vision.
Set aside a large chunk of time to set your vision and goals for the ministry. Then have your regular meetings center around working on how they can help you accomplish it.

Step 5:  Empower Your Team

You’ve given them a team member job description that requires them to coordinate or co-coordinate a major event in your ministry. Now, let them do it! Decide early in the year what major event each member is going to work on. What’s a major event? Anything that saves you major time like:

  • Fundraisers
  • Organizing the lockout
  • Retreat logistics
  • Mission trip details
  • Fall kickoff logistics
  • Organizing food for Sunday night meetings

Let them do it. They don’t have free reign (see Exponential Benefits of Major Event Coordinators). Their task is to take the team’s vision for each event and help to implement it. Your job is to help them implement which means that you’ll have to meet with them to help make decisions, and at your meetings you should be checking in to see how things are progressing so that you can ensure that everything gets done. With practice and permission, they’ll become better organizers than almost all of you are (excluding you A-type personalities who need to learn to let go, too!).
Remember, anything they do will be something you do not have to do. If they cause you more work than less, then you didn’t recruit properly or equip them well for their task.
Empower them to live out the team covenant. If six to 12 people are vocally advocating for the youth ministry in your congregation, you are sure to see significant results. So hold them accountable and allow them to hold you accountable as you ALL share the joyful responsibility (not burden) of youth ministry.

Growing Together

What have you found effective when working with youth councils or teams? Frustrating? Don’t hesitate to ask for help.