Starting anything - especially a ministry from scratch - can be a challenging and almost overwhelming task. Having made the journey of really starting two student ministries from scratch here are a few principles that I have found transferable no matter the size of your church or culture of your town.

1.    Decide WHO you will be - before what you DO: We want to run into events and programs but the key will be deciding both as a person and a ministry what you want yourself to be like one, five, and even ten years down the road.

  • Develop yourself as a person - read books, develop a solid relationship with Jesus
  • Chose to not be EVENT DRIVEN - but RELATIONALLY DRIVEN - so many ministries thing that events are the answers. Decide you will take a step back from events to give you time to form solid relationships with students and leaders.
  • DREAM what you want your student ministry to look like - Have big dreams and write the down. Let your God-sized dreams begin to become your roadmap.

2.    First start with FOUNDATION things : Foundations are so important. Laying a foundation is not glamorous but it is essential if anything worthwhile is going to be built on it. So here are a few key ways to built a foundation in your student ministry:

  • Building a SOLID LEADERSHIP TEAM - This is the first and one of the most important. You can’t do this alone. Find a few people in your church that you can recruit to join your team to help reach and disciple students.
  • Building a SOLID LEADERSHIP TEAM (again!!) - I believe that it is so KEY! Take the time and put in the effort to find a few leaders to help you out.
  • Identify KEY WAYS to REACH your COMMUNITY - look at your community and see what your student ministry can do to meet those needs
  • Identify your CHURCH CULTURE - what does your church expect and how does that fit into the church culture
  • HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS with OTHER youth pastors (this is KEY) - this is the easiest one to overlook but know you will need encouraging friendships with other youth pastors around you!

3.    Build BRIDGES : Before you start doing things in your student ministry build “relational bridges”. There are a few group you need to work to be intentional about forming relationship with:

  • Your PASTOR - what does a HEALTHY youth ministry look like to Him. Take him out for a cup coffee and ask him what he wants to see happen in the student ministry. You are there to serve his vision for the church
  • Your BOARD - what do they EXPECT - work with your pastor to find out what are a few key things your church board thinks is important also
  • Student’s PARENTS - How can they stay CONNECTED - Find some ways to keep conversation open with parents in the youth ministry.
  • Students ALEADY involved - what do they want to see happen - It is easy to want to jump out there and reach new students. That is so important but don’t neglect the students that are there and what they want to see

4.    Things to NOT do first : Not that these are bad, but most of these are demanding and not the best start offs. The time

  • A HUGE OUTREACH - it seems like a great way to grow but if you don’t have the resources or leaders to disciple students, you will find yourself even more discouraged the following weeks when the same number doesn’t come back to youth service
  • A LOCK-IN - a little humor with this one, but in all honesty until you form a good relationship with some students this could just be all night chaos
  • Things that “push the envelope” with your church culture - trust takes time. Wait to build trust before you try new or “edgy” things

5.    Have some EASY WINS : As you start you want to generate some excitement so other students and the church see things are happening in the student ministry. Here are a few easy wins that anyone can accomplish with just a little effort.

  • Camp !! - Even if just one kid - take them , they will have fun and more will want to go the following year
  • Camp testimonies - student share with church after going to camp with the church - it will get the church and other student excited
  • A themed night in the student ministry - pick something your students will relate, use a video, put up a few decorations in the area you have youth and have some fun
  • A one day session or night with Leadership Team - this take a little more planning but will reap HUGE benefits. You leaders will walk away feeling energized, motivated, and appreciated.
  • Have students take an active part in Sunday morning service - being part of the worship team, taking up offering, whatever gets them connected
  • Get students to show up for Sunday AM service - this will speak volumes to leadership and congregation and also help you student feel like they are part of the church as a whole

6.    Set REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS - One of the things that can make it difficult is having unrealistic expectations of what you can accomplish up front. To stay on focus with realistic expectations ask yourself a few of these questions:

  • How much time do you have to give? If you are bi-vocational or volunteer you may not have as much time to prepare for things as others. Work into your schedule the realistic amount of time you have to give to students.
  • How much time can you be on campus? Being on campus is key to reaching students. But if you work a second job or have a lot of additional responsibilities at the church you may not have much time to be on campus.
  • What is your budget? It is important to dream but be realistic with the amount of money you have to spend on events.
  • What is your capacity for service ? How many students can come and have a seat on a Wednesday night? What will you do if you grow? These are important questions to ask

7.    Don’t COMPARE your STARTING against someone else’s WELL DEVELOPED - When starting out it can be so easy to compare with student ministries that have been established for a long time. That is not fair to yourself!

  • If you compare and compete you will live in DEFEAT - you are doing yourself not good always comparing yourself to other ministries.
  • Know we all have the same problems just more “zeroes” - problem students, critics, budget troubles - know all ministry face these to some degree.
  • Don’t ISOLATE yourself because of not feeling good enough - when you feel like you are not as good as others you miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow

8.    Know that ANYTHING worth value takes time to BUILD - buckle in and enjoy the ride. It will take time but that is okay - so learn to enjoy the journey.

  • CELEBRATE even SMALL WINS - if you don't celebrate wins as the leader - others wont either. Take time to celebrate those wins with the people around you.
  • LAUGH at the PROCESS - youth ministry is full of funny moments - learn to laugh at the craziness and not feel like a failure.
  • Don’t lose FOCUS on the DREAM - When things get crazy let the dream keep you on the path the Lord has set you on.
  • Keep REMINDERS around you of what you are DOING and WHY - my office is full of different things from students and mentors of mine that keep me focused on my mission.

If you are setting out to form a youth ministry from scratch it will not be easy but it will be SO REWARDING !!! Know that your efforts do matter. Just like is says in Galatians if we do not give up in due season we will reap a harvest. We BELIEVE in you youth pastor !!!

Ashton Peters is the Student Pastor & Director of Signet School of Leadership at Sallisaw First Assembly. He has been married to the love of his life, Stephanie, for five years and they have one daughter, Hadassah. Ashton sees one of his main goals to develop and release young people into the ministry. He strives through "Living Significantly Different" to give his life away in significant ways to make an impact for the cause of Christ. 

//Twitter: @AshtonKPeters

//Instagram: @Ashton_K_Peters