By Adam R. Holz
What does it take to successfully launch a ministry to young adults? As John Greco said in his Boundless article “So You Want to Start a Young Adult Ministry,” love, prayer and discipleship are foundational elements before we talk about ministry strategy.
Assuming that foundation is in place and you’ve got your pastor and church’s blessing, here are five strategic considerations I’ve gleaned from more than a decade in young adult ministry (including two groups that I helped lead as a single layperson and one community my wife and I led together after we were married in our mid-30s).
1. Emphasize sound biblical teaching.
I’m convinced that healthy young adult ministries need to ground themselves in God’s Word and sound teaching to thrive spiritually. This might be in the context of small groups or a large group. But it’s critical to have a skilled teacher (or teachers) with the maturity, wisdom, and gifting to lead your group into life-giving biblical conversations.
Teachers and facilitators may be peers from within the group itself, be more seasoned members of the church or be church staff. Whatever your teaching approach looks like, a consistent format paired with an emphasis on biblical content communicates that your community values growing spiritually.
2. Recruit a diversely gifted team.
It takes a constellation of gifts to bring a new ministry to life: teaching, administration, recruiting, encouragement and serving, to name just a few. If you’re interested in helping birth a new group, take stock of the gifts you have, and look for others who compliment those capacities. A leadership team of four to six people with diverse spiritual gifts creates a good foundation to build upon. A team that size is stable enough that if someone needs to step down from leadership, it shouldn’t undermine the group’s survival.
3. Connect intentionally with the church.
A common pitfall of young adult ministries is becoming “siloed” or functioning as a church within a church that disconnects from the larger congregation. How can we combat this tendency? We can do so by proactively connecting with other areas of the church.
Reach out to your church’s pastor(s) and ministry leaders and ask where there are opportunities to serve. That might mean encouraging individuals in your group to get involved with something like a church nursery or teaching kids in Sunday school or Wednesday evening classes. It might mean teaming up with another community for a large service project. It could look like lots of things, but the important thing is that you as leaders encourage and facilitate ways for those in your group to love, serve and minister outside of the community instead of just focusing inwardly.
4. Define leadership terms and roles.
Launching a new ministry can be an incredibly exciting thing, especially if a group begins to grow. Amid that excitement, it may seem effortless to put in the hours of preparation and planning required to help a new community thrive. But there may come a time when the energy you once devoted to a group is harder to come by.
Because of that, I believe it’s wise to establish a “term of service” on the front end for your leadership team. There’s no magic amount of time, but a year to two years were both timeframes that seemed to work well for the leaders of groups that I’ve participated in. Similarly, it’s wise to articulate what each person’s role in the group is, so that your team is clear about who’s doing what.
5. Trust God with successes, setbacks, and surprises.
As your group grows, there will be moments that the experience exceeds your expectations. There may be other moments where you never knew you could be so discouraged. I remember hearing from someone who’d come to our group, didn’t return but still contacted me to let me know he thought it was cold and cliquish — and that was despite our leadership team’s intense efforts to be warm and welcoming.
No matter what you do, there are going to be surprises where you’re not sure what the right thing to do is. In each of those situations — success, setbacks and surprises — the best thing you can do is gather as a team, pray for each other, pray for your community and church, then look forward to how God is going to keep working in and through you and your relationships.