Six Essentials of a Great Youth Program

Summer heat pours through a September window, and my student
bends head over her math notebook. Legos tinkle in the distance as preschooler
relishes rest time. 
Our youth group switches back to school hours tonight, so sixth
graders through eighth graders will separate from the ninth through twelfth
graders. Youth pastor husband and I love our youth group teens, and savor
having our own kids in the program too. After more than eighteen years of youth
ministry, we have settled on several vital components for a great
youth program.
Through conversations with friends or family over the years too who
were pleased with something they saw, or who were dissatisfied with features
they desired in a youth program, we have noticed common factors.
Looking for a great youth ministry program for your kids, grandkids,
nieces or nephews? Or are you in youth ministry and striving to make it
Here are six essentials of a great youth program: 

  1. Jesus and the Bible are seen as the source of truth, joy and
    purpose in life. Lessons are derived from there, and clear salvation messages
    are taught regularly. 
  2. There is a clear vision and philosophy of youth ministry
    that reaches out to and teaches both
    those who are curious about who Jesus is,
    as well as to those who have chosen to follow and serve him, taking them
    further in their life-changing walks with him.
  3. Youth leaders recognize that their job is to love, connect
    with, model Jesus to, and mentor the teens, and don’t fall into being peers.

    Authority and approachability are paired carefully, humbly, and lovingly. (It’s
    a hard line, needing God’s help and input from other leaders.)
  4. Missions trips and service projects are interspersed with fun
    social connecting times, and rich learning times in God’s word, all seen as an
    extension of loving God, worshiping him, joyfully being his hands and feet, and
    with a humble desire for others to meet Jesus, 
    our source of rescue too. 
  5. Events are never seen as required or babysitting; always a
    privilege to be there
    . This frees up both the teens and the leaders to jump in,
    connect, and participate in; lovingly responding with correction when needed. 
  6. Youth leaders tap into God’s agape love for their teens and the ministry, knowing they can’t do it on their own.

As a youth pastor’s wife,
and a mom of two teens, these are pivotal foundations for us, on both sides of
the youth ministry coin. We haven’t perfected these either, but they are what
we strive for as youth leaders, and what we look for in youth ministry as
What about you? What
stood out to you in youth ministry when you were a teen? What do you look for
now in a youth program for your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews?
 In ministry? What is the hardest aspect for
you? Or what is your list of non-negotiables? 
I appreciate these conversations with you. Thanks. To comment from email, click here.

Photo credit: Microsoft clip art

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  1. Denise D. on September 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    We are adding youth group to our awana program this year as we have 7 out of about 15 kids who come are 7th grade on up. Problem though, there's a huge need and no workers. Paul and I are trying to be youth leaders and Pastor and I fear this is going to head to a quick burnout. But there's only one other lady who is willing to work with this age and if we don't do something we will lose these kids!! So please pray for us, we'd love to have another couple younger families come to church who have a burden for teen ministries.

  2. Cheryl Barker on September 7, 2012 at 4:20 am

    Jennifer, one thing I loved about the youth minister and wife when my youngest daughter was in the youth dept was the partnership I felt with them in guiding her through her teen years. The teens in your program are lucky to have you!!

  3. Cheryl Barker on September 7, 2012 at 4:20 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Cheryl Barker on September 7, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Sorry about that deleted comment, Jennifer. I'm trying to get used to a new laptop and posted my comment twice accidentally 🙂

  5. AmyAlves on September 8, 2012 at 2:48 am

    18 years of service so far… wow. Thanks for sharing sister! The hubs and I are just getting ready to help launch a new Sunday School curriculum called "The Gospel Project"! It focuses on finding Jesus from Genesis thru Revelation. We're excited! 🙂 ~ Blessings over your weekend girl, Amy

  6. Jennifer Dougan on September 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm


    That curriculum sounds intriguing and wonderfully comprehensive. Did you guys create it?

    Jennifer Dougan

  7. Jennifer Dougan on September 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm


    I'm so glad someone else has to delete repeated comments sometimes too. Me too. 🙂

    Yes, partnering with parents is a great way to do it. We appreciate that too, and I'm glad you got to experience that with your daughters too.

    Jennifer Dougan

  8. Linda Myhre on September 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Jen (and Mark),
    I am so glad my girls have had you two as their youth directors. You have helped to build on a solid base and make it that much better. My girls are all walking with the Lord and you may take some of the credit for that! Maddie has one more year under your leadershp before she goes further into the world. You and Mark have remained Biblically solid regardless of what has been going on around you. Thank you so much! I hope this thanks doesn't take away from the reward you will recieve in heaven!
    Linda Myhre

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