Momentum is kind of a big deal in youth ministry, isn’t it? Momentum is the thing that keeps students . . .

excited.
engaged.
coming back.
inviting friends.

As youth pastors, it seems like we’re always trying to figure out ways to create and then sustain momentum throughout the school year. We want to engage teenagers and keep them engaged and coming back all year long, but . . . how?

A lot of youth pastors try to create or sustain momentum with short-term fixes, like . . .

flashier programs.
bigger events.
more giveaways.
cooler Instagram posts.

Those short-term fixes may work for a moment or two, but wow are they exhausting. If your only solution for creating and sustaining momentum this year is to outdo your last program with something bigger and better, you’re going to die of exhaustion by January. And by the way . . . is that really what we want our ministries to be known for?

If our goal is to engage people for a moment, short-term fixes would work really well. But we’re trying to engage people for a lifetime – not just in our program, but in a lifelong journey to know Jesus better and join Him on His mission in the world.

Our programs aren’t the point, but if we do it right, they could be a starting point. So for the sake of that bigger picture . . .

How do we keep teenagers excited?
How do we keep teenagers engaged?
How do we get teenagers to keep coming back?
How do we get teenagers to invite their friends?
How do we create more momentum?

The answer isn’t new. The answer isn’t complicated.

The answer is simply relationships.

This generation of young people is less impressed than ever by our productions. They don’t want bigger, better, or flashier programs. They want authenticity and connection. A cool program might attract them in the short-term, but relationships will retain them in the long-term.  

(For more on this idea, check out the section, “Warm Is the New Cool,” in Growing Youngby Kara Powell and Brad Griffin of Fuller Youth Institute.)

So how do we turn RELATIONSHIPS into MOMENTUM for our youth ministries? I’m so glad you asked!

We need to strategically . . .

HELP TEENAGERS BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH ADULTS

Research popularized by Chap Clark and Kara Powell indicates that teenagers who stick with their faith in the long term walked through their teenage years connected relationally with five or more believing adults.

That doesn’t mean they knew about five believing adults.
It doesn’t mean they were taught by five believing adults.
And it doesn’t mean they could recognize five believing adults because they saw them around sometimes.

Young people who stuck with their faith in the long term KNEW and WERE KNOWN BY five or more believing adults.

If you know me, you know I’m convinced small groups are our very best chance at fostering relationships between teenagers and adults. Small groups, when done well, guarantee a teenager will build a relationship with at least one caring adult. That’s a big deal! It may not solve every problem or meet every need, but creating a small groups culture is an essential first step in connecting teenagers with consistent, caring, believing adults.

If you want to build momentum, connect every teenager with at least one caring adult. Because when a kid misses church for a few months, it won’t be a flashy program that brings them back. It will be a text from an adult who noticed they were missing.

HELP TEENAGERS BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH EACH OTHER

A teenager’s faith is hugely influenced by their relationship with the adults in their life, but we can’t forget about the influence of their peers. If you’ve done this youth ministry thing for a while, you’re probably painfully aware of how much the opinions of their peers impact their decisions.

Shout out to every youth pastor who’s familiar with this text exchange . . .

YOU: Are you coming to youth group this group this week?
A HORRIBLE TEENAGER: Who else is going to be there?

As frustrating as this can be (especially when we’re trying to figure out how much pizza to order on a Wednesday night), this relationship with their peers is completely normal (and even healthy) for teenagers.

Teenagers influence each other in significant ways, so if we want to . . .

keep teenagers excited
eep teenagers engaged
get teenagers to keep coming back
get teenagers to invite their friends

. . . then we’ve got to create a community for teenagers that is meaningful for them and their peers. And again, that has nothing to do with what’s happening on your stage. It has everything to do with what’s happening in their relationships.

But students won’t learn to develop healthy relationships on their own. That’s another reason small groups matter so much – because teenagers need adults (like small group leaders) to help guide them toward authentic, warm community.

In fact, everything we do should point toward plugging teenagers into a consistent community of their peers (and that includes both believers and nonbelievers). Whether it’s an event, a camp, a service project, or a typical weekly program, our ministries have to prioritize cultivating a community that is authentic, warm, and personal. It will take work. It will be messy and imperfect. But it will be worth it.

If you want to build momentum, connect every teenager with a community of their peers. Because when a kid starts drifting from their faith, it won’t be a flashy program that brings them back. It will be the influence of the people around them. 

Relationships create momentum.

Maybe that’s not the answer you were looking for. Maybe you were hoping for a quicker fix, a silver bullet, or a 10-step plan for creating and sustaining momentum. Sorry – unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of answer. As far as I can tell, there is only one way to create the kind of momentum that actually leads somewhere meaningful. Free Xboxes and cool events might lead students somewhere, but I’m not sure it will always lead them into a lifelong journey of following Jesus. If that’s your goal, I’m convinced that better relationships are the better answer.

Deeper relationships are our best chance at keeping teenagers . . .

excited.
engaged.
coming back.
inviting friends.

It’s not flashy. It’s may not draw a huge crowd. But helping teenagers develop deeper relationships with adults and with each other is our best shot at creating momentum not only for our ministries, but for our students’ future faith journeys.

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