If you attended church any time from the 1990s to today, I’m sure you have heard the term “accountability partner” thrown around.
Growing up in the early 2000s, I was told by several of my youth pastors that I needed an accountability partner. That sounded great and all, but I had no idea what an accountability partner was or what they were supposed to do. The only picture I received was that you pick a person who you regard as spiritually mature and you meet together a few times a month to confess all of your sins from that week. You may have received a different picture, but this is how an accountability partner was conveyed to me. Don’t pick a friend, but pick someone spiritual who can ask you hard questions.
That didn’t settle well with me.
So…We Just Confess Our Sins?
Like many Christians, I thought the idea of having an accountability partner was awkward. To clarify, the awkwardness didn’t come from the added level of accountability and support to grow spiritually. Don’t get me wrong, we need people to help us establish guardrails in our lives. The Old and New Testaments talk about establishing guardrails and seeking after wisdom. The prophets preached repentance and guidance. Proverbs instructs us to walk in wisdom. Paul reminds us in the Book of Ephesians to walk as those who are wise.
I’m not against a person needing transparency, accountability, and correction. I simply believe there is a better way to go about this than establishing an “accountability partner.” I didn’t want to have an extra person in my life who wasn’t my friend but got access into my life. I didn’t need a fake friend. I needed true friendships. Gaining an accountability partner felt like I was settling in my friendships. Separating deep conversations from my current friends and only discussing that with an accountability partner felt like I was missing the point of true friendship.
Build Biblical Friendships
When I moved to college I realized that the need for an accountability partner could be fulfilled by having biblical friendships. You need real friends. You do not need “yes men” who will not question your dumb decisions. You do not need hype people who only exist to make you happy. You need gospel-centered friendships with people who are growing in their faith.
True friends are better than accountability partners.
True friends will help you grow spiritually. True friends will ask you hard questions. True friends will encourage you to take steps of faith.
Many young adults make the mistake of surrounding themselves with hundreds of shallow friendships and fail to develop a few deep friendships. There isn’t anything wrong with having plenty of friends. Problems arise, however, when you don’t have a few key friendships that are strong enough to look out for your best interests – even if it means having difficult conversations. Biblical friendships are better than accountability partners because your desire is to see both of you grow in Jesus – not just keep you from a specific sin.
Proverbs repeatedly teaches about the benefits of quality friendships. And Proverbs Chapter 27 is a goldmine of wisdom about friendships.
- Proverbs 27:5-6 “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
- Proverbs 27:9 “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.”
- Provers 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Gospel-centered friendships will serve as a guardrail in your life in ways an accountability partner can’t. How? Your friends see you more than an accountability partner would. It is easy to lie during one monthly meeting. On the other hand, you can’t hide your behaviors and struggles from close friends. The closer the proximity, the greater potential for accountability and discipleship to occur. We all need people who can speak into our lives on a day-to-day basis. Those true friendships will shape our lives more than an accountability partner ever could.
So, How Do I Create Gospel-Centered Friendships?
1. Strong friendships are built on trust, proximity, and common beliefs. You can’t talk to a person once a month and expect to be close friends. Friendship is stronger as you spend time together. And as a guy, we are the worst at this. Once we graduate college we forget how to hang out with other guys. Start looking for ways to invite friends into the activities you are already doing – eating meals, watching sporting events, weekly small groups.
2. Begin having deeper conversations with your friends. You will notice if these friends are open to talking about real issues and struggles or if they shy away from being real. By all means, slowly walk into deeper conversations – you don’t have to air all of your laundry and beliefs at once. But be intentional to bring up faith topics. Start by getting involved in a small group in your local church and see what friendships develop from there.
3. Realize not all friendships will be deep friendships. Some have a hard time with this truth. It is OK to have surface-level friendships. That is the world we live in. Certain co-workers will never become deep friendships. Don’t stress about that. The key is to have a few deep friendships in the midst of the various levels of acquaintances and other friends you have.
Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive. The older we get the worse we are at making friends. Remember the elementary school version of you? Most of us were comfortable enough to walk up to another kid and ask them if they wanted to be our friend. We weren’t nervous about the prospect of meeting someone new.
Along the way we have been burned, backstabbed, and ignored more times than we can count. The mess of relationships has caused us to avoid being transparent and honest with people for fear that they will one day use our vulnerability against us. We need to return to the elementary school days of seeing people as potential friends, not potential backstabbers.
What If I Can’t Create Gospel-Centered Friendships?
An accountability partner is better than no accountability. I don’t know your situation, but I know that I operate better when my friends are asking me hard questions and are pointing me to Jesus. Your season of life may be full of transition and new opportunities which moved you away from your solid friendships. In the between time, you still need people to act as guardrails in your life.
The bottom line is that friendships don’t magically develop. Having Gospel-centered friendships takes intentionality and transparency. Those can be hard, but the end result is worth it.
Is your passion for Jesus burning out?
It happens to all of us.
Maybe a summer camp or incredible worship gathering stoked your fire for Jesus like never before. Chances are, there is a time where you have felt closer to Jesus.
One Saturday evening, not too long ago, Molly decided her life would never be the same. For the first time, she was truly excited about God.
During an amazing weekend retreat Jesus seemed to be closer to her than ever before.
- She finally felt God’s love.
- She let go of her guilt over past decisions and embraced what Jesus did for her.
- She developed new friendships with strong Christians.
When she headed home, she was ready to make drastic changes in her life, friendships, and habits.
But by midweek, she felt herself slipping away from Jesus.
Once full of hope and excitement about what Jesus could do in her life, Molly had now settled back into her old habits and friendships. She knew life could be different. However her old habits caused her passion to burn out.
Her passion for Jesus slowly burned out.
Have you ever met someone like Molly?
Perhaps you have had the same experience as Molly – during a retreat you experienced God like never before, but shortly after your passion seemed to slowly burn out.
From my vantage point as a pastor and former staff member at a Christian camp and retreat facility, I have seen tens of thousands of people draw near to Jesus – and subsequently I’ve seen hundreds of people fail to stoke that passion once they returned home.
But why did that passion fade?
Was it your schedule? Perhaps your habits? Or what about your relationships?
Every student leaves an event ready to passionately pursue Jesus, but many fall back into the passion-smothering routines that await.
How do we continue to stoke the coals of our souls?
After working with thousands who have attended camps, retreats, and events, I knew that I had to encourage people to stoke their passion for Jesus in their day-to-day lives.
That’s when I began working on STOKED: 6 Questions To Fuel Your Fire For Jesus.
Stoking your fire for Jesus is easier than you think.
These six simple questions will enable your passion to burn brighter for the glory of Jesus.
The times when I was isolated, spiritually burned out, or tired were the times I made decisions that I regret. Stoked asks pointed questions that will lead students away from the habits and situations that are extinguishing their spiritual fires.
Stoked is designed to be either a stand-alone book or to be used in a small group setting. Each week explores one question with a core session and five daily devotions to spark conversations and habits.
Students are able to work through the book on their own as a six-week devotional, or small groups can study it together as a six-week small group study.
Look for Stoked on Amazon January 2018.
What is your plan to grow your Wednesday evening attendance?
A large Wednesday evening crowd is not the goal for our high school ministry. Students connected to our Sunday groups is our goal. We have noticed that our Wednesday Midweek is typically the first point of contact for new students.
Your student gathering has potential to bring in new students whether your student worship is on Sundays or Wednesdays.
Below are simple and healthy ways to boost your youth ministry worship attendance.
Notice that I threw the word healthy in there?
We are all familiar with unhealthy ways to spike the student ministry attendance.
-Offer to shave your head if you get 20 extra students.
-Give out expensive electronics as door prizes.
-Serve porterhouse steaks instead of hotdogs.
Ok, I haven’t heard of anyone handing out premium steaks at a youth group event. If you try this, please invite me to speak. You can pay me in steak.
And frankly, students don’t care if you shave your head if they bring 20 visitors. You hate being bald. Your wife hates the idea.
Put down the clippers, there are other alternatives!
We aren’t looking for attendance spikes.
We are praying for spiritual growth and Gospel transformation.
Having special events with giveaways and nicer food has its place in youth ministry.
However, if you are banking on those to build your student ministry, you will be gravely disappointed.
The most irresistible thing you have to offer is the life-change that only comes from Jesus. For real.
- He will not go out of style.
- He isn’t a hype man who leaves when times get hard.
- Jesus is the connection students are looking for.
Go ahead and re-read the Gospels this week. Notice how people were drawn to Jesus? Sure our sinful nature wants to reject God’s goodness, but it is true that people are attracted to life-change.
If you are searching for way to build your youth group, look no further than Jesus.
Jesus is irresistible.
Transformed lives make differences in our communities.
I guarantee that there are people in your community who are desperately searching for something – hope, love, acceptance, meaning.
Stop waving shiny electronics at students.
Start discipling them.
The goal for increased attendance is spiritual growth, number of students connected to groups, and advancement of the Gospel.
These goals take time, energy, and typically don’t yield results overnight.
Several factors come into play with growing a youth group. The church’s culture, community characteristics, leadership, and student involvement are just a few things that come into play.
6 Simple (and Healthy) Ways to Grow Youth Ministry Worship Attendance
1. Avoid Gimmicks and Lofty Giveaways
You may get a student to attend one time with a gimmick. Chances are, they will not return a second time. Giveaways, promotions, and hype nights have their place in student ministry, but you have to be strategic with your use of products to promote your student ministry.
2. Attend Local Schools More
How often are you on campus at your local schools? As a student pastor you are to minister to students, not just those attending your worship services. Are there creative ways to get on campus if traditional routes like visiting lunches are ineffective or not possible?
3. Empower Students To Take Ownership Of Their Ministry
Who plans the majority of your student worship activities? Is it you? Do you have any input from students in your ministry? Do your students have a consistent voice in the planning process? The easiest way for your students to take ownership of the ministry is to expect them to help plan and prepare for your youth worship services and outreach events. Ownership could start with something as simple as texting out your event specifics and having the students pass along information to their friends.
4. Evaluate How You Communicate With Parents
Less students will show up if parents are disconnected with your plan, events specifics, and your communication. Communication with parents is key to your effectiveness as a ministry leader. Auditing your communication effectiveness by asking some parents how well you are doing might be an eye-opener for your ministry team.
5. Communicate The Life-Change Happening In Your Group
Remember to communicate information AND inspiration as you communicate with parents and students. Passing along the event specifics doesn’t inspire anyone. You need to share when God shows up in your student ministry. Have students taken first steps of faith? Are students being baptized? How often are they serving? Are students sharing their faith or asking hard questions about faith? Communicate how God is changing lives. People are attracted to life-change.
6. Create An Assimilation Process For Guest Students
What happens when a new student shows up on a Wednesday evening? Do they check-in? Are they welcomed? Do other students interact with the guest? How do you follow up? Do people remember the new kid’s name the second time they show up? Students will stay connected when they feel like they belong. There are plenty of ways you can ensure students feel connected to Jesus, others, and your ministry. All of the ways start with a desire to make sure student belong and the intentionality to create and work the plan.
What tips do you have for someone trying to boost their youth ministry attendance in a healthy and sustainable way?
In the wake of the Charlottesville protests – and the ongoing racial turmoil our country has been in since its founding – it is time for more student pastors to leverage their influence to lead young people toward spiritual reconciliation.
Student pastors, you cannot avoid the conversation about race inequality. Look at the pictures of these white supremacists in Charlottesville; they are young men – not the older generation that everyone assumes still has racists roots.
These men were teenagers in a student ministry less than a decade ago.
If you passively sit back, waiting for your senior pastor to speak about hard topics, you are creating a culture of uninformed and spiritually weak Christians.
It is easy to feel lost as to what you can do to make a difference.
Being detached geographically doesn’t detach your ethical and spiritual responsibility to denounce evil and advocate for change.
What should a student pastor do to make lead change?
Have ongoing conversations about race, reconciliation, and Jesus’ model of ministry.
Offering up a prayer the Sunday after a racial tragedy isn’t going to change our culture. As a spiritual leader, you must constantly denounce hate and oppression and lead your people to live as citizens of Heaven – the hands and feet of the Body of Jesus Christ.
Theologian Karl Barth said, “We have to read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” Student ministries cannot be detached from culture. The Spirit of God hasn’t give us a spirit of fear but of courage and power (2 Timothy 17). You must lead ongoing conversations about the injustices that are happening around the world and how the power of Jesus, extended through the local church, can radically change our world.
Expand your students’ worldview by ministering cross-culturally.
If ignorance breeds racism, then we must expose our students to the cultures that exist beyond their cul-de-sacs. They need to see that people are people and that the need for Jesus transcends race, social status, and gender. Ministering cross-culturally has to be an ongoing aspect of your ministry. Serving one time in that one area will not shape your students’ worldview to minister to others.
Don’t tolerate hate in your church.
Love isn’t silent. Our student ministries can’t be silent about evil. Jesus wasn’t – He constantly crossed racial and social barriers to heal broken people. It is time for you to speak up and use whatever platform that you have to influence change in your community. Your students will follow your leadership.
Lead by example.
At the end of the day, you have to help your students become doers of God’s Word. We need to cultivate Christians who act in our passive culture. Connect students and parents to the tangible steps to fight evil. Those steps will look different in each community. Christians have the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Student pastors have the responsibility to equip students glorify Jesus.
In addition, here are a few passages you can reference as you continue to stand against evil and encourage your students to be the salt and light of the world.
Bible Passages To Reference As You Speak Against Racism:
John 4 – Jesus’ Encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well
Luke 10:25-37 – Parable of the Good Samaritan
Ephesians 2:19-20 – “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
Revelation 7:9 – “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
Matthew 22:37-39 – “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
1 John 2:11 – “But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”
2 Corinthians 5:14 – “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
Students have spent their entire summer waiting for school to be back in session.
Ok, that statement isn’t true.
Honestly, they are probably dreading school, structure, and homework.
But the fall semester is an incredible time for ministries to get back into a normal routine and do some awesome ministry.
Now that the summer sprint is over, it is time for you to fall back into a sustainable rhythm of ministry.
Below are 7 tips for an incredible fall semester.
7 Tips For An Incredible Fall Semester
Bring Your Adult Leaders Up To Speed
This is the perfect time to remind your leaders about the importance of serving families. Leaders need encouragement to continue serving each semester. Nothing is more compelling than showing how their service is transforming lives. Go ahead and communicate when and where you plan on meeting the rest of the semester.
Create a Fall Calendar
Seriously. Spend an afternoon and outline all of the major events and deadlines that are coming up this fall. Your students will get excited about future events. Your leaders will think you are an administrative genius. The parents will appreciate you stellar communication skills. Once your calendar is completed make sure it looks sharp before you print it. Pull in someone else if you aren’t great at graphic work. Then print them on VistaPrint.
Send Out Your Small Group Leader Lessons
Back in the day the only option for curriculum were printed books we bought for our leaders. Now with the option to go paperless, I see many children and student pastors send the lesson out only a few days in advance. Sure, some of your leaders are slackers and won’t look at the lesson any earlier. But for your organized and invested leaders, the earlier the better they are prepared. Send out the trendy looking PDF with the semester outline that is provided in your resources so leaders know the spiritual direction for the semester.
Meet With School Administrators
Your local schools need to know that you are invested in their success, not just taking students from their schools. Meeting with school administrators early in the fall semester allows you to see what needs are present, talk through ideas you have to serve on campus, and ensures the administration knows who you are.
[Read: Why Youth Ministries Must Be Advocates In Their Local Schools]
Meet With Non-Profit School Groups
FCA, Teens For Christ, YoungLife, and the like need your help. And to be honest, you need their help. These groups are the missionaries serving your local schools. Each group tends to know the needs of the school better than the area family ministries. Partner with them, serve alongside of them, and back them with your budget by buying food for their events.
Send Students A Card
Mailed cards connect with students in an age of digital noise. Have you already created the fall calendar? Great! Mail that and write a two sentence blurb about how stoked you are for this student to be involved this fall semester.
Communicate Your Weekly Routine
The summer came at you like a wrecking ball and now it is time to get back into your rhythms. Sit down with your direct supervisor and layout your schedule for the fall. Don’t make your supervisor create your schedule – that is your role. Simply talk through the shifts and communicate where you will be each day. This saves your neck from looking like a slacker with no office hours. Don’t forget to communicate when you are taking time off.
There are huge opportunities to minister in the fall. What else are you focusing on?
God hasn’t called us to be mediocre spiritual leaders.
Churches around the country are filled with leaders who more closely resemble warm bodies than spiritual leaders.
Small group leaders have an incredible calling to impart practical spiritual truth with a group of people who are on various levels of spiritual maturity. This is an incredibly difficult task!
It is well known that the best leaders are self-aware to their limitations, issues, and shortcomings. The list below reflects 14 qualities of incredible small group leaders. None of us match up with every one of these. We all have gaps. However, it is important for us to recognize where we are, where we need to be, and who we can bring into the mix to help us fill the gaps of our leadership.
Take your time and pray through this list and see where God is leading you to grow as a leader.
14 Characteristics Of Incredible Small Group Leaders
What right do you have leading others to Jesus if you are not following Him?
Small group leaders must be spiritually mature. Does this mean they have to be perfect? Of course not! Maturity doesn’t mean you are perfect. Maturity in Jesus means that you are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus through spiritual disciplines. Spiritually immature people are incapable of being spiritual leaders. The great news is that we can all, by the grace of Jesus and application of spiritual disciplines, grow spiritually.
Great small group leaders are attentive to the needs, spiritual condition, and personalities of the people that the are serving. It isn’t enough for a small group leader to know the bible study material – they must know the people they are serving.
Transparency is essential to build relationships. Relationship is essential for discipleship. Every person in your small group doesn’t need to know every aspect of your life. Instead, they need to know that you are a real person with real struggles. Groups that are transparent are led by leader who are transparent.
Small group leaders are not responsible to “fix” people. There are too many negative ways you can take that statement, so I will move on. Some leaders become increasingly frustrated that the students in their group aren’t maturing as quickly as others. Be patient. People are different. People come from different backgrounds. People have different stories.
Person Of Integrity
This one is a no-brainer. Leaders have integrity. Without integrity you lose influence. Integrity comes from practicing what you preach, both publicly and privately.
People are willing to follow someone who encourages them. Everyone feels inadequate in some areas of their spiritual life. Encouraging your small group can be as simple as praying, sending text messages, or remembering to follow up with a question.
[Read: 3 Ways You Can Be A Leader Who Encourages Others]
The love for people is an essential characteristic of great small group leaders. The best small group leaders are actively participating in other’s lives. The best small group leader’s are not the greatest Bible teachers – they are often the best relational leaders.
I find it hard to read the Bible and walk away with a negative attitude. God has repeatedly done the impossible for His people. Small group leaders need to approach their groups with a positive attitude. After all, God promises to provide for His people – both spiritually and relationally.
Jesus’ life exemplified the power present when we assume the role of a servant leader. Your small group doesn’t exist to serve you, but for you to serve them.
The most encouraging person can still make for a bad small group leader if he is unavailable to his group. Time and energy are essential to disciple others. Small group leaders understand that at times they will sacrifice their schedule to minister to their group.
Spiritual growth doesn’t appear magically. Growth takes intentionality. It is a small group leader’s responsibility to intentionally lead each person in his or her group.
Do you believe that your group members can do incredible things to build the Kingdom of God? Healthy expectations can spur growth more so than wordsmithing a perfect open-ended question.
Each Jesus follower has been given spiritual gifts and talents to leverage in their mission to share the Gospel. Great leaders help their people set healthy expectations and paint a picture of what God may have for them in the near future.
Enthusiasm is contagious. It is important for you to enjoy spending time with your small group. The leader is the one who sets the pace for this. If you dread attending small group meetings your group will dread it as well. Add elements that will connect the team to one another and spark their enjoyment for life and Jesus.
Your small group is not a platform. Your small group is not your audience. Don’t lecture to them for an hour. Be a leader that facilitates conversation. Facilitators steer the conversation without controlling the conversation. Facilitation, when done well, incorporates strong Biblical teaching and ensures there are practical steps for each person to walk away with.