The most important aspect to small youth group ministry (and perhaps any ministry) is building relationships. In a large church, a youth minister may need excellent management skills. The focus of the ministry is usually organization, training, and vision-casting. The character of the ministry is different in a small church. This takes on many different dimensions, but I have been thinking of three keys lately. This is my relationship triangle.

1. At the risk of being trite, I believe the most important relationship in youth ministry is your relationship with Christ.

We may be able to bluff our way through ministry by talking about principles and themes, but we will never make a lasting impact on anyone if we are not first growing, learning, confessing, renewing, and loving God. There is no replacement for time committed to Christ. I know, small youth group leaders are almost always volunteers. You are working, investing in family, trying to keep a home running, dealing with crises, and investing in your church. In fact, most of us have more than one job at church. In addition to being the volunteer youth minister, you are also on the finance committee, sing in the choir, or arrange for flowers on Sunday. Still, none of that is more important than walking with Christ.

How do you maintain a relationship with Christ? Grace has been the most important concept for me lately. Every time I hear someone talk about how important a relationship with Christ is, I feel guilty. I never spend ENOUGH time with Him. What is enough? I keep wondering if you found a monk who did nothing but pray all day and you asked him, do you feel like you get enough time with Christ what he would say. I would guess he would say something like, “If I could just stay awake a little later at night or get up just a little earlier . . .”

A relationship with God is not about doing. It is more about being. It is falling in love with Him. It is discipling yourself to get into His Word because you know you need His presence. But it is also letting His word fill you like a sponge . . . rather than checking off the chapter for the day. It is turning your thoughts quickly to Him when you think of a friend or are frustrated by a co-worker or fear you won’t be able to pay your bills at the end of the month. It is worshiping Him in gatherings and in the privacy of your heart.

2. Build relationships with parents.

I was at church the other day and couldn’t come up with the name of one of the students’ parent. I said, “You know, Katie’s mom.” The person I was talking to said, “You really only care about teenagers, don’t you?” She laughed when she said it, but it stung. In a big church, caring for parents might be someone else’s job, but in a small church we cannot hope to make a difference in students’ lives if we don’t seek to build relationships with parents.

  • Know their names.
  • Brag on their kids to them . . . preferable in front of the kids.
  • Listen to them and use encouraging words.
  • Never judge them or their skills at caring for their kids, but encourage them to stay invested in their kids’ lives.

In small churches, we are really one big family. Your role with the students is more like the cool uncle or aunt than it is like the school teacher or  coach. That means investing in families, not just kids.

3. Invest in your relationship with students.

This is pretty clear. And yet, it is easier for us to get focused on teaching a lesson or organizing an event and lose focus. Time that you spend cutting up with kids, telling them stories, laughing with them, and expressing interest in their lives is real ministry. It models discipleship in a way that is different than teaching a Bible study does. And it is just about as important.

That’s the relationship triangle of small youth group ministry. What do you think? What relationships would you add?