5 to 1: A New Model for Youth Ministry

5:1  - A New Approach to Youth Ministry

by Pastor Shawn

The last few months have been exciting and fruitful in our Family and Youth Discipleship Ministry!

  • 18-20 of our youth together with more than a dozen adults were vital to ministering to two neighborhoods, doing the inviting, teaching, singing, painting, and hosting of kids and their parents in our Good News Clubs this Summer.
  • Almost a dozen young people from 4th-11th grade have come to profess their faith in Christ in front of their Hope Church covenant family!
  • 13 Senior High youth and their leaders attended the 1st ever East Coast Reformed Youth Ministries conference where they were energized and equipped in their faith.  And they saw one of their pastors screaming like a girl on a swing that dropped almost 20 feet!

Models of Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry is about 70 years old as I write this.  It began with ministries like Youth For Christ and Young Life, parachurch outreaches to teenagers in local public schools.  Eventually, churches were inspired to implement the methods and energy of these highly engaging models of ministry.  However, for decades now, the average tenure of a youth ministry professional at a church is around 18 months.  Why is that?  Are they by nature flighty people?  Studies are now showing that these models of ministry are not sustainable, and new models are emerging that show great promise.  Two examples of the (thankfully expiring) former models are the:


  • “Red Bull” model (events and adrenaline):  Youth Group provides a Jesus-themed jolt every week, with camps or retreats once a winter, once a summer.  Youthful leaders, creative and crazy, help kids to “extend the buzz”, stringing events and experiences together to carry them to graduation with positive vibes towards the Gospel and Christian community.  This energy and enthusiasm doesn’t prepare them well for college or work life where they meet intellectual challenges, keep grueling schedules, struggle to build Christian community, and often find a different buzz offered on and off campus.  Like drinking Red Bull, expect a high and a crash.


  • Pied Piper (relational):  The charismatic leader is a kid magnet.  He has musical, athletic and people skills.  Kids are drawn to their leader. She meets with them one and one and hears their deepest struggles and triumphs.  They bond with him.  He or she is their model of faith.  Eventually, they begin to see through their leader and lose their attachment to the Church and Christ since the bond they had formed was with their leader and not the broader Christian community and the depths of the Gospel.  The Pied Piper youth leader burns out and is disillusioned because he/she can’t connect with every student and can’t be the totality of Christian community and character for each student. 

I’ve been ministering to youth long enough to see several ministry fads come and go, and to see my Junior High ministry students from the 1990s getting married and having kids!  So I’m encouraged to see a new model emerging that spreads around the ministry and fits with our covenantal approach to faith development: 

A new ratio for youth ministry:  5 to 1. 5 adults to every youth at Hope.  

What would it look like for “Billy” to have 5 adults in his life from his Baptism to High School graduation?  

1.  Billy has a Sunday School teacher who has known him for the last two years.  Even after he “graduates” to middle school Sunday School, he sees his teacher in worship, in the halls, and he invites her to his baseball game.  She has an ongoing role in his life.

2.  Billy has a small group leader he calls Big Mike who leads a group with him and 4 other middle school and high school guys 2 nights a month.

3.  Billy is interested in becoming a carpenter.  He finds out from his mom that Tom is a retired homebuilder.  Tom offers to teach him AutoCAD and how to operate some important power tools. 

4.  Suzanne is an older single woman in our church.  She knows Billy’s name and asks him to show her the drawings he makes on the bulletin during the sermon.  (He can also tell Suzanne the three points of the sermon.  He can draw AND listen.)

5.  One of his parents’ friends, Jim, noticed that Billy looks discouraged.  He asks Billy how he can pray for him.  They keep in touch over the next few weeks to see how Jim can continue to encourage him.  

Part 2 of this article will be published on my blog.  

If you feel that God is calling you to join the ranks of our 5:1 team, come see me at the Ministry Fair after both services on October 11

Grace and peace,

Pastor Shawn