How to Develop Leadership in Your Youth Ministry
- Karen Whiting Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2019 30 Jan
For those investing in the next generation, the central goal – second only to building their faith – ought to be raising up tomorrow’s leaders. Youth leaders should incorporate activities that allow teens to shine and lead from their strengths while nurturing their weaker areas. This kind of challenge and support will allow teens to feel more equipped for life.
Daniella Brittingham expressed her thanks for training she received as part of a youth ministry. She said, “Throughout middle and high school, I was a part of the puppet ministry at my church. In my later teenage years, I was given more and more responsibilities, and eventually I was made a director. I was given creative and logistical freedom, which taught me to trust in my own voice. I learned how to resolve conflicts, delegate, and most importantly, I learned that a leader works twice as hard as the people they lead. I carried these lessons with me into every aspect of my life, from delegating at home, to working hard at my job, to resolving conflicts with friends. The experience of being trusted to lead at a young age gave me the tools I needed to enter adulthood with confidence.”
Youth group ought to be a place where teens like Daniella can grow because of the leadership opportunities offered to them. Here are 12 ways to intentionally invest in your teens, allowing them to step up and mature into the spiritual leaders God calls each of them to be.
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Make Use of Natural Abilities
Take note of the qualities and skills each teen possesses. Some want to speak and be heard, while others quietly engage with one or two people. Some are great with technology, and others inspire enthusiasm.
Tap into natural talents when assigning tasks. Let the cheerleader announce the next outreach opportunity while the organizer records names of volunteers.
Help members overcome fears and weaknesses. Encourage the shy person to read a scripture or provide the less organized person with helpful tools.
When we held a car wash fundraiser, one teen who suggested selling tickets designed the tickets themselves, an enthusiastic teen stood out front to wave cars in, a few hard workers led the washing, and one member who always thanked people with a big smile collected the money.
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Develop Listening Skills
Hand out giveaways when someone can repeat details of an announcement made at the beginning of the meeting or sum up the messages shared. Ask one member to meet and then introduce a new member. Later, see who can recall an important fact about the new member.
Do a pop quiz and discover who recalled the most of what members said that day. If someone gives a short answer with incomplete information, ask listeners what else they need to know. Did they notice what the speaker left out? Try leaving out an important detail and see if anyone notices.
Check yourself too. After the meeting ends jot down what you recall teens said to you or aloud at the meeting.
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Help Teens Navigate Choices
When Ned wanted to quit, he simply left and tried to hide from the leaders and even some of the teens when he came to church. I checked out his hiding patterns and caught up with him.
I said, “Hey Ned, I think you’ve made some new choices. That’s okay, but let’s keep in touch. I care about you.” He did a double take, nodded, and turned red. I said, “There are times and reasons people choose to leave a group, but mature people say goodbye. You don’t have to give specific reasons, but it’s good to state that you’ve made a choice and hope everyone understands. I also want you to know you are always welcome to come back, no questions asked. Say hello when you see me and let me know how life is going. “
Ned seemed very relieved, stayed friendly, and about a year and a half later rejoined. I also mentioned Ned to the group. I explained he made some new choices and reminded them to stay friendly and encourage him. When he rejoined, things went smoothly and with no hard feelings. This helps teens deal with their future choices when they need to step back or make changes.
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Cultivate Good Communication Skills
Double check how you yourself communicate. Teens will follow your example:
● Make sure your directions and announcements are simple, concise, and easy to understand.
● Admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
● Follow up when someone shares a prayer request, asks for advice, or shares an accomplishment.
● Use conflict resolution methods when needed. Employ the methods when you find members not getting along, when the group is at odds about a choice, and even if you seem to have a hard time getting along with a teen.
Pause and reflect when you see a teen make a face or whisper under his or her breath. I asked a teen to hand me scissors. She did, but they dropped. I asked her to please pick them up and she grimaced. I realized I broke a group rule. In handing over any item, the receiver had to say thanks after he or she had a firm grip on the item. I had said thanks, but did not have my hand on the scissors. I apologized and picked up the scissors. We both laughed.
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Train Up Leaders Intentionally
Hold a weekend or summer week training camp. This could be focused on bringing in new members who just aged up to join, or running a program for young children in the church. Set it up so the experienced members run the program.
I did this with a teen puppet ministry. The newer members of the ministry showed videos of our performances and passed out snacks, those with two years of experience took recruits through exercises to strengthen their muscles for holding puppets for long performances, and taught them to use puppet props. The most experienced members trained the prospective puppeteers how to manipulate the puppets and create a short performance. Various members or pairs of members took turns leading team building exercises to strengthen faith and teamwork.
Everyone looked forward to progressing in becoming leaders at future training camps.
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Let Teens Help Plan
Choose experienced teens to be part of a planning committee. Rotate the committee quarterly or yearly to give more members experience. Meet regularly, including ten minutes or more before meetings begin, and hold a longer monthly meeting to plan, provide ideas, and share their visions. Listen for new ideas or improvements teens share that can be implemented. Have the teen with the idea take the lead on the startup and set goals for accomplishing it.
Make sure the plans address the important information and have teens list that what is needed: what, where, when, how, permissions needed, cost, why, and supplies. That helps teens learn to execute plans.
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Build Time Management Skills
It’s hard to start on time. A few stragglers may not consider it rude to be talking on the sidelines. Use a little humor to grab attention. Whisper to those sitting to start laughing loudly and don’t give stragglers the reason for the laughter. The stragglers will race over to find out what happened. Their expressions will usually cause the group sitting to laugh more. At that point, mention that being on time shows consideration for the group and they might be there for something fun.
Show you value members and their time by ending on time. If you don’t finish a talk or some activity, carry it over to the next meeting. Have a member follow the agenda and give a signal a few minutes before the time allowed is up. That way everyone can finish up quickly.
When time continually runs short, evaluate what happened and how it could be different the next time. That will help both leaders and members practice better time management.
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Encourage Team Spirit
When you spot someone being a team player, praise them. They may be the first to walk up and welcome a new member or maybe they served another member, encouraged someone who had a tough day, or let someone go ahead of them in a game.
Identify and reward positive character traits. When a teen says thanks, reply, “I appreciate your gratitude.” When someone jumps in to help, point that out. Pause to clap and say, “Wow! Ricky jumped in and helped Ben (state the action).”
When you catch someone working hard and not giving up, remark that you find their persistence encouraging. Once they master a skill, reward them. When I had a teen who had difficulty learning to lip sync the puppet’s mouth in time, I had a proficient member work with him. Once he mastered the skill, we gave him a lead part.
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Nurture The Right Attitudes
As leaders, we need to nurture a spirit of love and respect for everyone. When there’s a problem, consider an activity that trains people to overcome it, especially if members have a helpful idea.
I recall a teen baseball coach with a new catcher. He was a great player but kids tended to bully him for his size and poor grades. The coach stopped the team when he heard name calling. He asked who could hit further than Wally, catch more balls, or throw to the right base faster. He knew no one could because he named Wally’ best talents. He asked if they wanted a great team. They all nodded. Then he said, “A great team appreciates every player, so let’s clap for Wally.” From then on, they applauded their teammates and stopped teasing anyone. Wally held his head higher and even improved in school as teammates gave him high fives in hallways.
One group of girls had two members who lost their mother. The girls showed up dirty and smelly. Rather than teasing, older members created a grooming program. They set up a meeting with stations for everyone to learn how to care for clothes, appearance, hair, nails, and more. Everyone had fun. The two girls showed up in the future looking and smelling great.
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Provide Leadership Opportunities
Make opportunities for teens to practice leading:
● Set up meetings with various opportunities for teens to be leaders. Rotate small group leaders, change who makes announcements or leads an activity.
● Let teens lead devotions (provide good resources they can use to prepare ahead).
● Ask Sunday School teachers and children’s church leaders if they could have a time when they might divide children into small groups and let the teens lead those groups.
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Encourage a Team Mindset
When making plans ask teens to list ways the activity will impact other members. Ask questions to encourage empathy and sensitivity. Would anyone get their feelings hurt by methods used to choose teams or dole out roles? Does anyone have a food allergy to be considered? When thanking the team for their work, ask if you missed anyone who deserves a little credit. Remind them it’s not about getting credit as much as remembering to appreciate team members.
Ask members to let someone on the team know if they will miss a meeting or activity, especially if they have some responsibilities for that event. They won’t let the team down if they get someone to fill in. This also encourages good communication and responsibility.
Evaluate team activities. If the team faces a failure and things don’t measure up to expectations, chat about how to improve and what they learned. Let them know you continue learning to be a better leader and appreciate their input to improve the team.
Step Back to Let Teens Lead
Prepare to enjoy the results as you let teens take over more positions of leadership. Evaluate how things go after a teen or group of teens lead. Let both successes and failures become opportunities for improving as leaders. No effort you make to invest in youth will be in vain. You are growing tomorrow’s leaders.
Karen Whiting is an international speaker and author (www.karenwhiting.com) with decades of experience with teens. Her newest book Girl Talk Guy Talk focuses on developing great communication skills.
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