Communication: Youth Ministry - The Rule of Thirds

There is one thing every successful student pastor does that should be passed onto all the wide-eyed hopeful rookies out there.

It is called the rule of thirds. Every student minister should spend roughly the same amount of time with three groups of people—parents, volunteers, and students.

Let’s face it—parents are more important than we are. A student ministry that is not actively partnering with parents is destined for confusion, misunderstanding, doubt, and division. These are strong words, but they are important to hear.

This partnership is aided by the fact that many youth pastors get to be in front of parents while preaching the main worship service numerous times a year. Not everyone gets this platform. However, if you do, this an amazing way to communicate with parents. Text-messaging databases are a great way to notify parents of last-minute changes or follow-up questions for Sunday morning teaching. Send monthly e-news, using an online service such as Mail Chimp, to highlight upcoming events. Hold roundtable discussions and training events in the community. Because, it's just not church folks who are wondering what in the world is going on with their kids.

There’s Facebook, Twitter, websites, and tons of ways to equip parents to disciple their kids. Use your personal blog to communicate what other experts are saying, linking parents to those resources so they can add them to their parenting toolbox.

Whatever you do, don’t neglect parents. I would wager that if we forget one of these three, this is the one. Stop! Spend a third of your time thinking about and ministering to the parents of your students.

It doesn't matter what size ministries you serve in, you need help! Even if you are just starting out with a youth group of less than a half dozen students, you need volunteers. Let others drive the church van, host events, or bake cookies.

Yes, you are old enough to drive a van, but you can’t pick up all three from the rental place by yourself. You can't lead fourteen small groups. You can’t teach every week. You may not be able to play instruments, sing, or know a ton about technology. You can’t run the café, check students in, follow-up with students, reach out personally to every kid, plan every event, or single-handedly watch every young person that’s at every event.

Therefore, you have to build a team. Spend a third of your time doing this. Lead a small group that includes all your volunteers, go out to eat together, send personal notes of gratitude, ask them how their study went, and throw parties every now and then. Weekly communicate via e-mail. Don’t waste their time. Laugh with them. Visit them when they or their family is in the hospital. Model for them the kind of leadership you want them to provide for their classes, groups, or whatever you call them.

Students were saved for last because most people in student ministry spend about 90% of their time working directly with kids. In your setting, this might serve you well. Particularly as ministries grow, though, you have to spend less if you’re going to lead well. To adequately build team and inspire parents means taking less time drinking smoothies with students. This is an unpopular take, but it’s a no-brainer if you want your ministry to last beyond you.

Students will probably still think you’re the greatest, but don’t get a big head. Spend energy integrating them into the life of the whole church. Introduce them to other adults with whom you know they'll have affinity. Make it about them and not you. I think sometimes we buy students' lunch, take them for frozen yogurt, and have them over at our house because it makes us feel important, not because it’s in their best interests.

A third of your time should be spent directly with students, on lesson preparation, or on some other element that will benefit students directly. To spend much more than that probably means you are in need of their affirmation, neglected another important component of your ministry, or both.

Sit down and reflect on your week. How did you spend your time? Did you give equal attention to each of these three groups? How can you move toward balancing your attention better?

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