Rockpointe Church in Leander, TX realized its student ministry had become a ministry silo. According to Pastor Shayne O’Brien, the problem had arisen slowly. The church and students interacted only around baptism. The church’s high school graduate retention rate was terrible, just 10-11 percent. After leaving student ministry when they graduated, students felt as though it wasn’t their church anymore. Youth ministry as Rockpointe knew it wasn’t working.
With this realization, the leadership team decided to tackle their silo. To start, they moved their student ministry gatherings from Sunday morning to Wednesday night. We caught up with Pastor Shayne O’Brien, who has been a part of one of The Unstuck Group’s coaching networks this year, to find out the impact this shift is having.
A few of the immediate benefits:
- They now have a lot more students serving
- The student pastor has been freed up to join the weekend service teaching team
- They freed up facility space to accommodate a growing kid’s ministry
- More parents are volunteering on Wednesday than were able to on Sunday
- The involvement of students in the weekend services has increased the overall energy level
The youth ministry movement has spent the past 50 years trying to entertain, engage and keep the attention of students, and still they are leaving the church at an astounding rate. That is simply no longer acceptable to me. After spending 12 years in youth ministry, the retention rate was discouraging. It was a broken system. — Shayne O’Brien
TIFFANY: What had been your average student attendance and how did the new day/time impact it?
SHAYNE: We have averaged 125 in student ministry, including adults. At our first event, we had 205–our largest ever by more than 50.
TIFFANY: Did you get any push-back from students when you made the change?
SHAYNE: Students were pretty on board. They seem to always be up for the challenge. In fact, they were happy to find out we wanted them in “big church,” and so far they show up on time and attack whatever task they have with energy that many adults wouldn’t or didn’t put into it.
TIFFANY: How did you build momentum towards the change?
SHAYNE: Most parents were on board because their students were. Our youth pastor and youth team did a great job of leading through this change. Our youth pastor first met with his volunteer team and worked through the push-back there. (This was the greatest place of resistance…thus the silo mentality.) Then, they all met with our 27 student leaders.
The key was a good communication strategy and some courageous youth leaders and student leaders who were willing to do whatever it takes for this church to move forward.
TIFFANY: What is your church’s mission/vision and how does this change better position your church to accomplish it?
SHAYNE: We are here to help people heal from life’s hurts and become followers of Jesus. We don’t want students to become members of a youth group, but to become whole followers of Jesus.
The youth ministry movement has spent the past 50 years trying to entertain, engage and keep the attention of students, and still they are leaving the church at an astounding rate. That is simply no longer acceptable to me. After spending 12 years in youth ministry, the retention rate was discouraging. It was a broken system.
We want to have a sustainable ministry, and without our youth, our days as a vibrant church are numbered.
TIFFANY: What has surprised you most about the process of making this change?
SHAYNE: It actually has nothing to do with the youth ministry changes… What surprised us the most was what followed after we freed up the youth space in our church. We moved kindergarten children in with elementary to create a K-3rd grade. Then, we moved our 4th – 5th grade kids into a newly remodeled area and recruited a brand new team to lead it.
Our first weekend we had 80 kids. We had been averaging 40 in these two areas combined in the spring! The size of our 4-5th grade children’s ministry doubled and adult attendance went up by 200 our first weekend. God let us stumble into a real need we had only begun to identify.
TIFFANY: What tips would you share with other pastors considering a similar shift?
SHAYNE: Here are a few.
Have a real vision you can share with people.
It’s not just change. We said, “What we’ve done has been great to get us to where we are (therefore not criticizing anyone or anything we have done in the past) but it can’t take us to where we want to go.” That seemed to resonate.
Tell the truth boldly.
Tell why students leave. They feel they have lost their church. So many parents left after high school, too, or when they started college. Those with a church background will relate.
Don’t miss the opportunity to recruit new volunteers and leaders.
Our youth adult leadership team doubled in the three weeks leading up to this change. We also built a team of 20 to run the new 4-5th grade area.
Communicate in the right order.
Our leadership made the decision. We engaged the youth pastor. Then the staff. We met with Youth Team. Met with student leaders. We told all church leaders at a monthly meeting. Then, we told all youth, followed by all church. By the time we told the church, it was old news to many who helped us with questions.
Do it for the right reasons.
We felt youth ministry had become an attempt to keep students interested in church by trying to keep up with their world. What we’ve found is students want to be welcomed into the larger body of believers and treated as any other member of the church — with responsibility, training and trust. In this context, students have the best opportunity to be mentored and modeled by “their church” in what it means to follow Jesus.