Everyone says that the longer the better for youth workers to stay in one church context. And yes, there are all sorts of upsides to sticking around, but lately I have been thinking that 5 years might be ceiling for maximum effectiveness in your local context.
This is the pattern that I notice:
- Youth worker shows up in a church context.
- Spends the first year or so figuring out the context, dealing with the angst of the upperclassmen, and working overtime building relationships with students.
- Youth workers kill it relationally! They are masters at building relationships and winning students.
- After 2 years there is a strong relational core in your ministry. The new upperclassmen respect you and the incoming freshmen idolize you. (in a good way)
- Over the next few years this group of young kids become amazing upperclassmen. They “get it,” they respect and love you, and you love them with all your heart.
- Youth workers then soak up, and rightly so, the fruit of their labor!
- Then around year 4 or 5, this group of students who you have known since pre-puberty graduates and you weep bitterly.
- When you look up you see that you have replaced a solid group of leaders and young adults for an immature and rowdy group of freshmen. This is more then our weak hearts can often take.
- The thought of having to re-build an entire youth ministry with these young and immature kids sends us packing.
It is at this point that we have three options. We can realize that our time in student ministry is done and start dreaming of church planting, realize that your gifts and abilities are too much for this context and start looking for a bigger and badder context, or to settle in and settle for a below average ministry with minimal students and minimal excitement.
Ok, I get that those are total straw men and mostly unfair. The truth is that I have seen this pattern dozens of times among my peers and colleagues. I have even noticed this pattern happen within my ministry and within me. The more I reflect on this pattern the more I realize that there are actually two real options to avoid flame out by year 5.