Last month, we had our good friend Karen over just a couple of weeks before she moved to Kelowna to begin employment with Disney Interactive. When Karen told me that she would be working on the popular game Club Penguin, I told her that Jacob plays that game all the time. Within a matter of minutes, we had set up a date for Karen to come over to our place to eat and then play.
Needless to say, Jacob was very excited for the opportunity to teach someone – and an adult at that – everything he knew about Club Penguin. He counted down the days to Karen’s visit and he could barely contain his excitement when the day finally arrived. After a delicious dinner (prepared by Gail of course), Jacob showed Karen the ins and outs of the game for the better part of two hours. It was a great visual: Jake the eager 9 year-old as teacher and Karen the willing grown-up as obedient student.
Jake took complete ownership of his task: he prepared for Karen’s visit very diligently and even strategized a systematic order of how to show her aspects of the game. The end result was a win-win: Karen left more confident about the game, and Jacob was affirmed in his knowledge and enthusiasm.
Naturally, it got me thinking about youth ministry (surprise, surprise). In particular, I thought of three ways that youth ministry leaders can give ownership away (or in essence, let others take ownership) in order to strengthen their youth ministries.
1. Letting Your Volunteers Take Ownership
Being a Lone Ranger youth worker will only get you so far. Despite how charismatic or capable you are (or think you are), eventually you and your ministry will plateau. It’s amazing what can happen when you let your volunteers take ownership; when you provide a variety of responsibilities to your volunteers and when you encourage risk-taking. They will feel affirmed and supported. They will feel more invested in the ministry and will want to see it succeed. They’ll likely go the “extra mile” so to speak. And they’ll want to tackle new challenges with newfound confidence.
Our volunteers are ordinary people in the hands of an extraordinary God. They want to know that what they are doing is indeed making a difference. Letting them take ownership will go a long way towards that.
2. Letting the Parents Take Ownership
Asking parents to help does not mean you are relinquishing control of your youth ministry. Rather, it’s a sign you are reaching out to them to be actual partners in the ministry. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help from them especially given the time and energy you devote to their kids; parents are often very willing to assist but they just need to be asked. For example, I’m aware of many churches that have parents (as opposed to the youth leaders) prepare the snacks for the youth ministry gatherings. Not only will parents feel more invested, the snacks will likely be of better quality. That’s how our parent ministry got started at my home church – I think the parents were sick of me feeding their kids Tang and potato chips. Sad but true.
Parents need to be able to communicate with us, rely on us, and trust us. When parents entrust their children into our hands, opportunities arise to serve together and further strengthen the community.
3. Letting the Teens Take Ownership
Remember, good youth ministry is not just ministry to youth and for youth – it’s ministry with youth and by youth as well. Thus, it’s imperative to give young people an opportunity to take ownership in the ministry. For instance, there are many ways that a young person can get involved at Mass: lectoring, alter serving, greeting, ushering, and singing in the music ministry. All of these roles are vital to the celebration and their involvement is a wonderful witness to the entire parish community.
Also, you could task some youth with coming up with a skit, game, prayer, or testimony for one of your gatherings. By giving young people roles in our ministry, they feel valued as part of the community and they are developing crucial leadership skills. And in many cases, they might do a better job than you or your team would do!
I encourage you to consider these three simple ways of letting others take ownership in your youth ministry. After all, if it works for a 9 year-old, it surely should work for us.