Aren’t Children, Middle School, High School, And Young Adult Ministries Really All The Same?
Foundations, Ideals, Reals, & Practices
By Rev. Brent Dearnell
As Colocate Ministry Consulting spends time assessing, coaching, training, and networking with ministry leaders of young people there are a couple interesting trends that raise to the top. One of the recent trends, especially with the popularity of family ministry approaches growing, is discussions around the question, “Do we really need children, middle school, high school, and young adult ministries?” Each church may come to its own answer to this question depending on their context. This answer may change how the church staffs, organizes space, budgets, and promote these ministries. However, all church leaders ought to remember the needs of these young people has not changed. No matter how your church answers this question we remember each ministry area is there to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. However, each ministry area should have a different focus. There are good reasons schools, sports, most extracurricular activities, and historically churches have age based models. Those working with children can focus on them learning the foundational Biblical stories as Christ followers. The team working with middle school students leads them to develop an understanding of the ideals of a Christ follower. The high school leaders sit with their students talking through the realities of being a Christ follower. The young adults gather to develop practices that draw them closer to Christ and Christ’s body, the church. We have coined this approach as the foundations, ideals, reals, and practices approach. Do not worry, there is no cool acronym or alliteration…not sure FIRP really drives the point.
Foundations - Focus for Children’s Ministry
As infants, toddlers, and children are being entrusted to your ministry on Sunday mornings and as you partner with these families through the week, what is your focus? What if you were zeroed in on each of these children hearing, engaging, and learning the stories of the Old and New Testament. Focused on resourcing and equipping families to build this foundation in scripture that prepares them as children grow and experience the world.
Foundations Application - While the Children's Ministry sharpens its curriculum around this focus the church as a whole can lean into it through committing to giving each child an age appropriate Bible. Maybe this commitment comes as a gift to celebrate baptism, a rite of passage for a certain age group, or gift for every first time children’s ministry attender.
Ideals - Focus for Middle School Ministry
When middle school students who are wrestling with their identity show up in your ministry we can shift from purely focusing on hearing, engaging, and learning the stories of the Bible to learning how these stories ideally call us to respond with our words and actions. Not ideals as in a “list of bad behaviors”, but a grace filled understanding of how our faith in Jesus Christ calls us to ideally respond in the world around us. These ideals aide middle school students to develop an identity in Christ and not just responding to what the world around them is offering.
Ideals Application - This focus can work well with the confirmation classes many churches already offer at his age. Leaders and middle school students taking a deep dive into why we as individuals and as a church do what we do as we live out our faith in Jesus Christ.
Reals - Focus for High School Ministry
High school students come to your church as they walk in from the car they drove there. Driving along with the many other new sets of responsibilities in jobs, sports, and classes have high school students realizing none of us are perfect. They slip up and they witness their family and friends making mistakes. Their world is slowly shifting from good/bad, black/white, right/wrong to shades of gray. This is why we shift from ideals to reals. How do we as Christ followers respond to ourselves, our family, our friends, and even those we may not be very fond of when real life happens. When mistakes happen, or choices are not clear, we sit with them while they wrestle through these realities using scripture, church teachings, what makes sense, and their experiences in a Christ focused community.
Reals Application - This focus on “reals” is why high school students thrive in small group based ministries and short term mission trip experiences. They get to share real life case studies from their lives and the world they are experiencing.
Practices - Focus for Young Adult Ministry
The biggest temptation in young adult ministries is to take the best parts and high school ministry and rinse and repeat. If there isn’t a named focus this will happen naturally. Young adults are rediscovering their identity as they attend school and enter the work force. They start to feel comfortable with the gray but find themselves with passion and idealistic views of the future. Our focus can shift to helping these young adults discover practices and rhythms that draw them closer to Christ and Christ’s body.
Practices Application - We can focus on facilitating young adults to self-led alternative worship and service practices as a community of believers.
If your church wants to start moving in new and exciting directions with young people we encourage you to lean in and follow where God is calling! However, as you move you may want to name focus points for these ministry areas. The foundations, ideals, reals, and practices approach is one way to name and claim these focus points. Whether this is the path for your church or not, do not sacrifice the needs of the young people in your care for new and streamlined approaches.
By Rev. Brent Dearnell
Brent is married to Sara and is a father to four young children. He has served as a volunteer, interim, and full-time youth pastor, discipleship pastor, and executive pastor. Before going into ministry full-time he was a middle school teacher in an urban environment as well as a varsity soccer coach. He is passionate about helping young people live into their passion, faith, and call. This passion is why he is one of the cofounders of Colocate Ministry Consulting and serves as one of our coaches.