Creating Balanced Student Ministries


I recently posted an article about being a disruptive leader in your student ministries. (You can read more here.) One of my youth coaches mentioned he loved the idea of being disruptive as a leader, but his concern was how do you balance the art of having fun with students while still wanting to get in serious discussions with them. In fact his words were, “I don’t envy youth ministers!” Such a light-weight!

Student ministries many times are like pendulums. On one side, many ministries are all about games and fun and spend little  time or focus on serious teaching. While other ministries are into serious teaching times and have little focus on having fun.  A healthy student ministry has to find the balance between the extremes.

Here are four tips that I have found to keep in mind when trying to balance having fun and having serious teaching moments in your small groups or ministries.

Make Time for Fun

It is ok to have fun in small groups. Last week I made a fool of myself during our small group time and the students loved it. We laughed a lot and other groups did too. Sometimes I think youth ministers and youth coaches forget that it is ok to have fun in small groups. Having fun with students helps make youth workers relatable. It earns trust and opens the door to speak into their lives.

Take a few minutes when you first meet and discuss that past week and laugh about anything funny that might have happened. Or try building into your small group a fun activity just to get the students to bond and build trust. Maybe you don’t make time for fun during your official small group time, but you create fun moments elsewhere by bowling, or going to the movies, or inviting them to your house for dinner. Be deliberate and intentional in creating those moments. However you choose to make time for fun will encourage students to open up and talk with you and their group because a safe environment has been established to do so.

Eliminate Distractions

Distractions in your environment are huge! Ever wonder why students and sometimes youth coaches don’t pay attention? Ever see their eyes diverted to something else, or their hands fidget with something they found laying on the ground? Distractions limit your student’s focus and can make teaching them frustrating. So what do you do? Get rid of any distractions that you can.

Obviously the space you meet in sometimes is out side of your control, but take time and eliminate any distractions that are in your control. Sometimes what you eliminate varies with age of each group. The older student will less likely will want to touch and be distracted by every small thing, while younger students need everything taken away and out of reach or they will play. We meet in a auditorium so we have chairs, staging, pens and papers everywhere. You name it, I probably have to deal with it. Some groups do a better job than others at eliminating distractions. But most take their environment and make it work. They create or find a space that works for them. You will find when you get rid of distractions, your conversations become deeper and you have your student’s attention longer!

Engage Students In Good Questions

One of my pet peeves as a small group leader and student pastor is listening to small group questions that just are not good. Questions that don’t keep the kids thinking or engaging them in real life change. Making time for fun, and eliminating distractions will only take you so far. Imagine if you are able to create great questions. Questions that get the students to talk and think critically, and have those aha moments!

It is easy to create simply yes and no answers and sometimes these are good, but open ended questions–questions without one correct answer–are even better! Open ended questions engage students with their answers. The better the questions at getting them to think and respond, the better your discussions will be and more of their attention you will have!

Make the Lesson Relevant and Applicable

Teaching students is a great honor and responsibility, plus it is a lot of fun! Teaching students about what God wants for their life is the best job ever; however, at times it is a challenge. What I have learned is to make every effort in your study to create lessons that are relevant to student’s lives with tangible application. There will always be a place for strong Bible teaching and historical Bible study, but sometimes this doesn’t meet to happen in your large group settings. Who cares about the geography of Mt. Sinai or the history of the Babylonians, unless there is some connection to my life today!

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, for that the man of God may be throughly equipped for every good word.” Every scripture is important, and should be taught. But find ways to always bring it back to Jesus and the impact that text should have in the lives of your students. A simple idea to make sure you are doing this is to ask these questions withe every lesson you prepare:

  • What do I want my students to know and why?
  • Why do I want my students to know this?
  • What do I want them to do with this lesson?
  • Why do I want them to do this??

Finding Balance

I have seen these simple principles work in creating environments of balance. It does take some work on the youth leader’s part and the small group leader’s to incorporate these principles into a ministry.  But doing it will be so worth it! You will be able to have fun moments with students and teach them at the same time. Are you willing to try some of these principles? You may never know the life change that will happen if you do!

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