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“No offense Pat, but this isn’t your ministry – it’s ours.”

Eight years ago, as I first stepped into full-time student ministry, those words would have bruised my little ego. But today, I couldn’t be prouder to hear those words, spoken in love and conviction, by one of my student leaders.

It is the objective of student pastors to encourage, equip and empower students to serve and lead the church. I call it “equip and release.”

Most student leaders have a small window of influence over students’ lives before they graduate and move into new areas of ministry. Our students long to have meaningful, serious and critical leadership roles in our ministries.

However, as a recovering control-freak, I recognize that sometimes it’s hard to hand over the reins to the most important parts of our ministries. It’s far more comfortable to give someone the job of “chair stacker.” It’s easy to let that go. Stacking chairs is a menial task with which most leaders would rather not engage.

But how willing are we to allow crucial tasks to be offered to someone else? Is the risk worth the reward? I say, “Yes!”

I want to encourage you by equipping you with ideas to empower a team of your students, thereby increasing your church’s student ministry.

As we have intentionally implemented these strategies in my ministry context, we’re seeing the fruit that we’ve prayed for.

Over the past year, our student ministry has grown by 20 percent, and I believe this growth is directly attributable to students owning their ministry. The important shift in mindset is for students to discover there’s more to church than consumption. This consumeristic mindset limits growth in many church settings.

As a part of the Body of Christ, we’re called to contribute.

FIRST: Identify the leaders in your group.

Don’t just focus on the popular students. There is a vast distinction between mere popularity and leadership potential. Speak with these students one on one, and speak life into the God-given abilities you see in them. Don’t assume a possible leader knows they have great potential. Cultivate the passion that’s hidden inside of them. As you spend time with them, eventually you’ll recognize which students you can use to form a leadership team.

SECOND: Clearly define the roles for your leadership team.

Teams are intended to work to achieve a purpose. And everyone on a team needs a reason for involvement. There will naturally be an allure to the team, and many students will ask to be involved. But don’t fill your team with purposeless positions. This is just a retread of doing nothing at all. Assign roles and set goals in order to motivate students to serve well.

THIRD: Actually let the students own their roles.

I know, I know. YOU would do it THIS way, and they’re not doing it that way. Guess what? That’s okay. Until you see students doing something actually detrimental, let them serve their role in their way. When you step in, coach and consult. Don’t condemn their method. Remember, we’re teaching them to replace us. There will be a day when these students are out of your direct influence.

Student ministry is a transitional ministry by nature. So let students actually lead. They will often come up with ideas you would have never dreamed of, and you’ll be blown away by the results. There’s something incredibly powerful and attractive to other students when they see that they can actually be a part of something significant. They may never be one of your leaders, but just seeing their peers serve does plant the seed that they can serve too.

There’s no right or wrong number of team members or team roles. Just make sure everyone has a specific role. Here are some examples of the roles I currently have on my leadership team:

Host Team: Think “greeter” but more. Their job every week is to identify new or lonely faces and allow them to feel comfortable and welcome. They also assist with response time after the message.

Media Team: Their job is to capture the moments of ministry through photography and videos. They also assist in creating content for promotions and announcements.

Praise Band: They handle the worship ministry. I don’t touch this. They pick, arrange and practice songs on their own.

Spiritual Emphasis Coordinator: We have a team member who leads devotion and takes prayer requests at our weekly team meeting. This is such a blessing in that I get poured into weekly before service.

Tech Team: They’re not button pushers. They handle setting the mood with pre-service music and work diligently to make sure all the sound and visual elements of the service are in order and run smoothly.

Outreach Strategist: This team member is responsible to identify and conceptualize ideas on how to more effectively reach our schools.

Welcome Team: Three of our students take turns opening the service, making announcements, reading Scripture and praying during the service.

Snack Squad: We sell drinks and snacks before service to help with those coming straight from practice. A team of students are responsible for displaying the snacks in an attractive way and handling all the money.

Of course, the student pastor is needed to help and coach them. But don’t merely relegate your students to low-risk points of leadership. It takes time and investment to build a quality team, but it’s worth it. Building a team and letting them lead will turn “your ministry” into theirs, and that will change everything.

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