Youth Ministry Gut Check: Are You Spending Too Much Time Writing Messages?

Today I want to ask an honest question. I would love feedback as I am still churning through this one myself. Do we spend too much time writing messages when students really need us to be in their world, rather than trying to talk about their world?

I’ve been reading back through Generation iY by and I got stuck on one of his observations about Millennial generation students that you and I minister to. Here’s what he said: 

They want a guide on the side before they want a sage on the stage… Keep in mind that young people today are not necessarily looking for experts, especially if they are plastic and untouchable. They would rather have someone authentic come alongside them. When students were recently asked about their heroes, for the first time in twenty years they did not list an athlete at the top of their list. Their number one response was “mom and dad.” They hunger more for relationship than information – even relevant information. They are accustomed to learning on a need to know basis – but their need to know will increase if a person they trust and know well is the one sharing the information…

From this observation, here a few things that I am seeing myself as I look at youth ministry:

1) My best message preparation time is ‘contact time’: Of course, I need to sit down, seek God, and create effective messages that communicate God’s truth to students. However, I wonder what impact would be made if you and I cut back some of our message planning time and intentionally used that time to meet with students in their world more. You see, our message holds more weight when students know and trust us. Trust comes with relationships formed over time. There are no short cuts to this.

2) I don’t need to be perfect, but authentic. Our students would rather you and I be real and authentic than super polished. I would even go as far as to say that students don’t want a speaker to be too polished. Being too polished could cause them to doubt our authenticity…

3) Authentic messages are best prepared in our own heart first. Authenticity cannot be bought in a curriculum or canned message series. Are we honestly growing in our own faith walk first? Students will sniff out a bogus faith walk. How are you doing?

4) Volunteer youth workers have always been huge… Now their influence is humongous! Given that Millennial students would rather have a guide on the side than a sage on the stage, it’s imperative that we teach, train, and encourage volunteer youth workers even more. Many of us know that we can’t do ministry without great volunteers, but if we are honest, our ministries still revolve around the paid person… This needs to change… As a paid youth worker I need to cut back on my message prep time and invest more back into my volunteers…

5) Mom and Dad are not just the greatest influencers, they are heroes! If you have been around the Sticky Faith movement or family based youth ministry models, you know that parents are still the greatest influencers in a student’s life. However, it’s now been taken a step further. Parents can be heroes to students. However, I often hear youth workers casting the parents as villains, (and yes, sometimes for good reason, but not always). What would happen if we were to see parents as heroes too? What would happen if we were to publicly and persistently hold parents up as heroes? What would happen between students their parents in our ministries?

So, what are your thoughts about this? Are we spending too much time message writing? Do we need to invest more time in meeting with students and volunteers? Share your thoughts. I would love to think this through some more… 

Phil <><

photo credit: via

  • Aaron Helman

    Here’s my answer, Phil:


    I know a lot of youth workers who don’t spend as much time with students as they should. Most of them time they could use an extra five hours with students, but message prep isn’t the first place I’d pull my time from.

  • Phil Bell

    Aaron, thanks for your comment! I hear where you are coming from, and I agree.

    The point I should have been clearer on is this: The last decade has seen us following in the footsteps of some incredible youth ministry communicators. As a result, it’s easy to become obsessed with keeping up with some of these guys. Unfortunately, I think many of us spend so much time in message prep, that we are missing out on essential time with students.

    Make sense?

    Phil <

  • Aaron Helman

    Yeah, I think the bigger question might be something like this:

    Is God calling you to do ministry like Andy Stanley or Craig Groeschel? Or does he have a different model for you?

    There are absolutely going to be some youth workers who are called to be awesome speakers. And there are probably going to be a lot more who don’t share that calling, but will be spinning their wheels trying to get there.

  • Phil Bell

    Aaron, great thoughts. How about this? Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel have appealed to boomers and X’ers very well… But what about Millennial’s? I wonder if a new breed of speakers will have invest more time in investing in relationships and walking alongside people that reach the MIllennial’s?

    Now, I don’t know if I even agree with this statement, but it’s something I am churning through… Thoughts?

    Phil <><

  • Aaron Helman

    There’s probably someone smarter than me who could do the research to back it up, but on its face I would have no problem with a statement like this one:

    “Stop trying to be like the people who reached the last generation and start being the people who will reach the next generation.”

    Do those things require different skill sets? Yes. Are relationships more highly emphasized now? Definitely.

  • Phil Bell

    Aaron, thanks for churning through this. I agree too, there is someone smarter than me to figure this out. But I think there is a change in the tide and the way we reach students and communicate with them.

    Have you read Generation iY by Elmore? I like a lot of what he says there and at his blog too. Now there is a smart guy!

    Phil <

  • Aaron Stetson

    Interesting thoughts, and discussion here afterwards. I see them as equally important, and I would agree that message prep is not the place i’d pull time from for contact work. Perhaps some of the time we spend searching for that “perfect countdown timer” or creating the graphic for our next series title.

    The only different thought that I would have is that unless you’ve got a very small group it’s impossible to REALLY walk beside every kid. I believe wholeheartedly that you should have half a dozen students that you do life with, but I don’t think you can be that for 40 kids. However you have a unique opportunity to craft some well thought thought out words, stories and truth that relates to their life and the weekly hearing about a God who loves them. That you can do for each one.

    Now what you can do is reproduce yourself into your volunteer leaders. Not to be exactly you, but train them to and lead by example how to be involved in the lives of students. Take them to games with you, send them loving reminders to check in with and spend time with students. If you invest in your leaders in this way you’re getting the best of both worlds

  • Phil Bell

    Aaron. Solid thoughts here! Thanks for adding to the conversation! Like I said in my post, I am still churning through this and I greatly appreciate the insights!

    I think the big idea I wanted to get across is: Don’t pour yourself into polished messages at the expense of relationships and authenticity.

    Phil <><