Introducing Change Without Killing Your Student Ministry

Introducing Change Without Killing Your Student Ministry

We’ve Never Done it that Way Before

We’ve all heard these statements: – “We’ve never done it that way before” and “It’s always been done like this.”  Change is inevitable in life; we change as individuals.  Our cities grow and change, and we face change in our jobs and families.  A person can’t live without change affecting them.  Yet some people resist or feel uncomfortable with change. Here’s what we need to know and do about this…

Change is Unavoidable, Necessary but Dangerous.

Over the years I’ve been part of many change initiatives. Most of the time the change was well received, however, there have been other times when resistance was met.

This week is the first part in a series that will look at change in student ministry and how to navigate it so that it continues to be effective.

How Change Feels

Change is defined as: “To make different or alter,” “make radically different,” “to give a different position, course, or direction.”

There are times when a youth pastor/worker needs to step back and look at the youth ministry and make an honest evaluation of it to see if it’s effective.  There may come a time when an area or areas of a ministry need to be changed or revamped.  We need to remember that people are creatures of habit and comfort; their nature tends to resist change.

Change is disruptive to a person’s comfort zone.  Change can create resistance when an attempt is made to introduce new ideas into a student ministry.  In many churches, including youth ministries, there are the ‘sacred cows’ that have been around for a long time and it’s difficult to question or even consider assessing.

Why People Resist Change

It’s important to understand and remember why change is hard for some people.

1)            People can presume the worst.

Our brain is naturally wired to pick up risks. Many times people’s initial response to change comes from an emotional reaction rather than from rational thinking.

2)            People can have uncertainty about the new ideas.

A new idea or change can lead a person to apprehension about the future. If a ministry has been running a certain way for a long time, a new idea may invoke the fear of the unknown. To avoid this fear, it is important to communicate as much and as early as possible about any changes that you are trying to make.

3)            There may not be a culture of change.

Sometimes people are conditioned against change.

It may be that a youth ministry or church has been running the same way for a long time. When this is the ethos of a church or ministry the leader may have to address the culture before they address any change.

4)            People can only handle so much change at once.

If there has been a lot of change already in a church, there may be those who resist because they are overwhelmed with all of the change that has taken place. (We will look at timing in a later blog)

5)            The longer a custom or tradition has been observed, the harder it is to change.

It’s like I said earlier “We’ve always done it that way”.

6)            The risk seems larger than the reward.

When someone cannot see or determine what the return on the risk will be, they are more likely to protest. While a leader who is initiating change needs to understand this, one needs to remember that anything of value requires risk.

Answer 8 Big Questions

When thinking of introducing change or are attempting to revamp part of a youth ministry there are some important questions to ask:

  • 1) Why is change taking place?
  • 2) What is the vision/purpose of the youth ministry?
  • 3) What is being changed or revamped?
  • 4) Who is initiating the change?
  • 5) What are resources available to us?
  • 6) When is the change taking place?
  • 7) How will the change occur? Phases or all at once?
  • 8) How will opposition be handled?

Think Before You Change

As one looks at change it is important to examine the existing student ministry to determine its focus and purpose. Any organization, business, church, or youth ministry needs to be clear on its purpose and have a mission/vision statement. (That’s another topic for another day!  Doug Field’s Purpose Driven Youth Ministry is an excellent book on this subject)

So, when thinking about change, take time to examine and evaluate your current student ministry programs.  In part 2 we will look at ways to evaluate a student ministry.


Matt is the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has over 20 years of student ministry experience all over the country. He has 3 kids. His 2 girls are in their teen years so he has lots of opportunities to put his student ministry years to good use at home everyday. He’s completing a Masters in Adolescent and Family Counseling.

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