Youth ministry can be challenging. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether or not the things you are doing in your ministry are having the impact you want them to have. Books on theology and the basics of youth ministry can help, but there are some hacks many have found to be life changing for teens.
- Provide teens with paper resources. We discovered this years ago and recently a teen offered the same suggestion. Teens have been trained by their schools to keep important papers and books because they may need them again. If you give teens handouts on a variety of crucial topics as you study them, they will often keep them. There are stories of teens moving Bible lesson handouts from home to dorm to first apartment. Even if they don’t pay much attention now, they just might when they struggle as a young adult. (This can also apply to quality, practical Christian books.)
- Encourage paper Bibles. While having a Bible app on their phones means no one ever forgets to bring a Bible to class, studies are finding paper books are better. Our brains can better remember things read in paper books. They aren’t sure of all of the reasons, but one is that our brains tend to remember where they were reading within a book that is paper and can at times almost visualize the needed information. Digital Bibles don’t allow our brains to store information in that way, even with titles and page numbers.
- Provide NIrV Bibles. As many as ⅔ of American young people are reading below grade level. Most Bibles translations are written on a 7th – to first year of college grade level. The NIrV version is written on a third grade reading level. It comes in adult covers now, so students won’t feel like they are reading a “baby” Bible. Although other versions may be slightly more accurate, the NIrV will help teens with both reading and understanding scripture (The NIrV is a translation, not a paraphrase. While less formal than the preferred New American Standard Bible, it is still basically accurate and much more so than a paraphrase.)
- Adults should lead class and small group discussions. It’s laudable that many youth ministries want to give leadership responsibility to teens. Unless you provide excellent training though, they don’t have the experience to present higher level thinking questions, ask key follow up questions and evaluate and correct student answers when necessary. Teens may also struggle with keeping the discussion focused or handling answers that indicate other issues. If you use students to lead any type of group, an adult should always be by their side to provide assistance and feedback.
- Give teens less time for undirected socializing and more opportunities to share their hearts with each other. Undirected socializing time only builds bonds between people who would have been friends anyway. For everyone else, it can cause more relational problems than it solves. Teens actually become closer by sharing their hearts with each other in meaningful, adult directed, spiritual discussions. Heart sharing reveals the basic needs and issues that we all have in common. Those commonalities will build bonds between people who would otherwise have failed to connect. Teens need some loosely directed social time, but most youth ministries give teens way too much of it.
Try these hacks. The results may not be obvious at first, but they are based on years of experience and research. They could change everything for many of your students.