Every ministry in your church has a life cycle.

There are highs and lows.

There will be victories and challenges.

There will be times when you need to stop a ministry, and there are other times when you’ll only need to make a few adjustments. This is the nature of life in the church.

Your student ministry is one part of your church you’ll need to monitor regularly. I’m not saying you need to do this because you can’t trust student pastors or teens. That’s not the case at all.

But here’s the deal:

Life for teens is continually changing, and how well your church adapts to these changes will determine whether your student ministry is helping or hurting your church.

Today, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of student ministry by saying what you should or shouldn’t do. Instead, I’d like to share three warning signs of a hurting student ministry. 

#1 – Teens are disconnected from your church

Keeping your student ministry connected to your church is difficult.

You’ll face at least two distinct challenges:

  1. Maintaining alignment
  2. Keeping your teens connected

As with any ministry in your church, maintaining alignment requires ongoing maintenance.

Every ministry in your church—including your student ministry—will naturally drift toward misalignment. Said another way, your student ministry will float off course and pursue its own purpose separate from the church’s mission.

I’m not saying student ministers are evil.

What I’m trying to say is that you have to make sure your student ministry is supporting your church—not working against it.  

This is just the nature of creating church alignment with any ministry.

Here are some ways to align your student ministry:

  • Ensure the vision of your student ministry supports your church’s vision
  • Regularly interact with your staff and volunteers
  • Hold your staff and volunteers accountable
  • Require a church leader (elder, deacon, etc.) to support your student ministry

There are many more ways you can maintain alignment, but here’s the big idea:

Make sure your student ministry leadership isn’t isolated.

Building a strong relationship with your staff and volunteers will not only keep your student ministry in alignment, but it will also develop better relationships.

The second challenge you’ll face is keeping teens connected to your church.

I’ll be honest:

This is easier said than done.

Here’s why:

In many churches (maybe yours?), during your weekend worship service or mid-week service, students are led to participate in different programs separate from their parents.

This reality can make it really difficult to connect teens to your church—not just your student ministry. There’s a big difference between the two.

Thankfully, you don’t have to throw the baby (student ministry) out with the bathwater.

Based on research conducted by The Barna Group, in stemming the tide of young people leaving the church, they discovered the following tactics to be helpful:

  • Prioritize discipleship
  • Promote church-wide relationships
  • Encourage greater commitment (e.g., volunteers)
  • Offer one-on-one mentoring
  • Sponsor teens

These are just a few ideas, but here are the two big things you should aim for:

  1. Help teens build relationships with people in different age groups
  2. Challenge teens to use their gifts in the church

This last point leads us to the next warning sign.

#2 – Teens have little (to no) expectations

What do you expect of the teenagers in your church?

Do you expect them to be active participants in your church community or to sit on the sidelines?

If you don’t expect much from the teens in your church, then don’t be surprised if they live up to your expectations.

Here’s the deal:

As a church, not setting high-expectations for your teens is like shooting yourself in the foot—you’re impeding the process of God’s work.

The teens in your church can play a vital role in the work of your church, and I’m not just talking about manual labor, either. There are many ways teens can participate in God’s work:

  • Music
  • Announcements
  • Tech and sound
  • Ushers
  • Greeters
  • Leading children’s ministry
  • Social media
  • Tech support
  • Outreach

Instead of treating teens like passive participants, cast a big vision for them to pursue. Help them to explore God’s call on their life and to understand the potential He sees in them. Challenge teens to live and love like Jesus—today.

In the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in life, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

As you challenge the teens in your church, you’ll remove the shackles holding them back from being a driving force for good work and God’s glory.

#3 – Parents are treated as enemies

What is the relationship like between your student ministry and parents?

Does your student ministry treat parents like allies or enemies?

I’m using hyperbole, but here’s the gist of what I’m saying:

Your student ministry will hurt your church if it operates independently from parents.

I’m not saying you can never run events or programs without parents. But what I’m suggesting is that your student ministry should have a two-pronged approach:

  1. Invest in teens
  2. Invest in parents

Above, I talked about investing in teens by focusing on relationship-building and discipleship.

When it comes to investing in parents, three things come to mind:

  • See parents as teammates
  • Challenge parents to lead their children
  • Equip parents

Before you can invest in parents, you have to see them as a teammate, and there are a few reasons why this is the case.

First, the Bible lets us know that parents are considered the spiritual leaders of their children (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:1–9; Eph. 6:4). But this isn’t only about biblical precedence. This also has to do with being practical.

Think about it.

How much one-on-one time can you realistically spend with teens in your church?

Is it one hour?

Is it 2–3 three hours?

There are 168 hours in every week, and you’ll never be able to match the amount of time teens spend at home and with their parents or guardians. It’s just not possible.

Based on a variety of studies, I understand many Christian parents may not be actively leading their children to embrace Jesus. But this isn’t a reason to shun parents. Instead, this is a reason to challenge them to lead their children.

But how can you do this?

In your student ministry, strive to equip parents.

To do this, you may have to integrate your student ministry with other facets of your church life to make sure everyone is aligned.

You’ll also want to consider providing parental resources and biblical training.

In the beginning, I mentioned that life for teens is in flux. The challenges teens face today are not the same as the challenges parents once faced.

To help parents navigate these challenges, it’s ideal to equip them with biblical resources.

Here are some ways you can support parents in your church:

  • Build relationships with parents
  • Address parental topics in sermons
  • Provide discounted parental books
  • Recommend helpful parenting articles
  • Host seminars
  • Provide parental Sunday school or small groups

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good launching pad to start.

Is your student ministry hurting your church?

There you have it.

Three warning signs your student ministry is hurting your church:

  1. It’s disconnected
  2. Teens have little (to no) expectations
  3. Parents are treated as enemies

Think of these signs like a check engine light in your car.

Take a moment to diagnosis your church, see if anything is causing a problem, and make the adjustments you need to create a life-giving student ministry.