Youth ministry can be a lonely place. As Doug Fields tends to say, “We weren’t meant to do life alone.” I think this is especially relevant in student ministry.
I can remember first coming into my ministry position as a ‘newbie’ youth worker looking for and desiring a connection and a network that really didn’t exist in the city where I was located. I saw another denominational network that was doing a tremendous job of resourcing, equipping, and encouraging youth workers and I jealously wanted that same thing for myself!
I started making phone calls. I called our district guy and left a message, hoping to make a connection. I waited for a response… and waited… and waited. I called again and finally got on the phone. I asked about what kind of collaborative events, activities, etc. were available in our district. His response: “Summer camp.” O, for joy! (my sarcastic inner-response)
In short, I felt alone.
Not good. Not encouraged.
I knew that there were other youth workers in town doing great things, so I started making phone calls.
Here’s a few thoughts on how to connect with other youth workers and why I think there’s so much value in doing so:
- The first place to check to see if there is a network of youth workers in your area may be the National Network of Youth Ministries. Just put in your zip code and see what it pulls up. If there’s a network listed in your area, the contact information and meeting times are generally included in the links provided. Pretty slick.
- Of course, not all networks will be listed. You may have to make a few phone calls to discover if a network exists in your town.
- No network? If this is something that you value, then I’d make some more calls and get one started! My guess is that there are other youth workers in your area who would be just as excited as you to have one!
- Determine what your gathering will look like and how often you’ll meet. Our local network, just for instance, meets regularly once a month. Our gathering meets at a local coffee shop, where we hang out and share experiences (and usually prayer requests) for this first half (for us, an hour) and move into a more focused discussion/topic/training for the 2nd half (for us, another hour). This seems to be a great mix for our community, but find out what works best for you and others where you’re located.
- Get as many youth workers as you can involved. Make it something that they can not only gain from, but invest in. I think this makes it more valuable for those involved. People generally find something is worth their time and energy the more that they have personally invested in it. In our network, we try and have as many youth workers as we can take on and facilitate the monthly topics that we share at our gatherings.
There are lots of ways that you can engage youth workers online, too.
- Create a graphic to promote your gathering and share it with area churches (see the graphic for my area’s youth ministry network pictured above).
- Have a resident geek create a web site for your network where you can share participating youth worker’s contact info, blogs, and student web sites. It’s also a great way to promote community, get people involved in online discussion, and provide promotion space for city-wide events and activities. Again, here’s what ours looks like (created with a free WordPress.com account).
- Use some form of an e-forum to communicate in between gatherings. This is great when corporately planning for a city event, prayer items, network updates, etc. We use a free account created through the Google Groups service. We set it up in a discussion-style format so that when any one person responds to a thread in the discussion, it goes back to the whole group – a great networking tool.
These are just some ideas, but I hope they provide a way for some to jumpstart a beneficial gathering of youth workers in your area. Let’s get our act “TOGETHER”!