One of my principles as I create talks for public speaking is, "When you know why you're doing something, you can do whatever you want." (blowing up a balloon, painting a picture, building a wall, sitting on a chair, standing in specific places on the stage, etc.)
A lot of the conversation around Youth Min programs these days is pretty black and white - "do more events", "don't do big events", "we need more music", "get clearer on the message", "small groups are key", "just move away from the church building altogether", "don't do games", "make it more fun", "make sure there's food", "don't make kids intentionally throw up", yada yada yada...
But, the thing about Youth Ministry is that you cannot listen to someone from across the country, or across the city, or even across the staff table talk about the way to do things and adapt their principles to your context. Believe me, I've tried relentlessly.
(Elle and Kenny over at Youth Ministry Answers (Podcast) do a great job of answering questions about Youth Min and helping you think about it in your context, btw.)
We used to do a lot of things that may not work, or may just seem strange in other contexts...but as far as I can remember, there was (almost) always a reason. And as long as you know why, you can do whatever you want. Here's three things we continued to do because we confidently knew WHY we were doing them: JR.High Talent Show, Volunteers Leading Discussions, and Getting Messy!
Jr.High Talent Show
Though the high school talent show was thrown in the trash, as long as I am involved in organizing a program (which, I'm not doing at this point in life), I will make sure there is a JR.HIGH TALENT SHOW,
because young teens need a safe place to practice and perform what they're good at. They need a place to be goofy and be applauded for it!
They need to explore if this is something that they really find joy in. Though she may only be on a stage 6 inches off the ground in a room of 23 people, this is the first time she has chosen to sing in front of people other than her family...it might be poor production quality, but if he wants to spend a minute on stage solving a Rubix cube, you give him a space to do that...and those 6 silly kids may be completely dancing out of sync, but when they laugh and act silly on stage it gives permission for all others in the room to do the same. I encourage Jr.High Talent Shows because they provide a chance to cheer students on in something they are exploring about their personality and practical skills. When you know why, you can do whatever you want.
Volunteers Leading Discussion
When we shifted to have the weekly Youth Ministry program in homes, it meant there wasn't a main weekly teaching element 'from the Youth Pastor'. While many people have issues with this, I loved it and encouraged it...heck, I helped come up with the idea. We would sit in the offices and create a basic curriculum, then put it online and eventually into the hands (on the phones) of our leaders. It was then up to them to lead how they wanted, to use the elements they felt worked best in their Tribes, and to bring others in to help them as they wanted to. I encouraged this,
because the Bible is not meant to be in the hands of the elite but in the hands of the people, teaching is a group activity in which everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.
The more we gave our volunteer leaders the wheel, the more they took it on the direction their Tribe needed it to go. When you know why, you can do whatever you want.
LET'S GET MESSY
We had an event every other year called "JELLOWARS". It's exactly what it sounds like.
We had frequent demonstrations of what the SLEDGE-O-MATIC could do
We make heads into cupcakes, we painted faces as much as possible, and we played games outside in hailstorms...
because when you have to clean up after an event, it extends the experience beyond the event! 13 years later, they still talk about the cow-tongue!
When you know why, you can do anything you want.
Exception #1 - this does not include situations like, "...because we needed to see how many cartons of milk they could actually drink before puking..." or, "...teens need to learn responsibility, so we play "hitchhike home"..." or, "...I'm burned out, so I take a nap while the student leaders run the program..."
You can do a Nerf War Night, and a music night, and cancel the regular program to meet at McDonald's, and get more volunteers teaching, and move the program into homes, and make videos together, and take a break for a week as a ministry to REST, and laugh during prayer, and eat healthy food, and all kinds of other things that only make sense in your context (along with some things that stretch across all contexts)...because you have spent the time to prepare and to know why you're doing it.
Exception #2 - If you have a really good reason for doing something in the ministry, but as you continue to do the 'thing' it is not meeting the intended outcome - it doesn't matter how good the WHY is, it's likely time to kill it and try something else to meet that goal.
People come to you all the time and question why you're doing any given program, and why you're not doing anything else. When you know why, you can help them understand that there is a whole lot more to this whole Youth Ministry game than just some eggs splattered on teens' heads. You can invite them into the process then, and help them become invested in what you're doing rather than just interested enough to complain about it.
So...do you know why you do the programs you do? How are they pushing teens out of their comfortable lives, creating a safe place, and helping them discover their purpose?