Youth culture is constantly evolving and as youth leaders we are desperately trying to match that rate of change. We want to adapt our programmes and try new things with the hope of reaching out to the increasingly disengaged young people around us. We want our ministries with young people to develop new ideas, solve problems, embrace opportunities, meet needs and takes risks. In short, we want innovative youth ministry. But what even is innovation? And where would we begin to think about innovation in our contexts?
One definition of innovation is creative problem solving. It’s identifying a need (old or new) and getting creative in how to meet that need. Sometimes the prospect of trying to come up with new ways of reaching young people can leave us overwhelmed and discouraged. We doubt our creative abilities and whether young people will even be interested. We worry how the rest of the church will respond to something new and “innovative”. We agonise over the actual process of innovation and how that would work for our programmes.
This is the daily reality for so many youth leaders. Reaching young people in today’s culture is a challenge and it’s OK not to know where to start with how to change things. Always remember that innovation is for everyone, everywhere, in every context. We are all creative in different ways and you have a unique viewpoint on the world that offers different insights into your context.
Before you start with any new idea, take a step back and look for the opportunities. By starting with an opportunity, you are making sure to identify a real need amongst your young people which you can then try to address. Ideas that grow from opportunities are going to be the most impactful. For those youth leaders who are feeling uninspired by the task ahead, here are five practical pointers to help get you started on your innovation journey.
It might be stating the obvious, but the foundation of innovative youth ministry has to be prayer. Our God is full of big ideas! Jeremiah 10:12 says “But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding”. Not only is our God the ultimate creator, he is the source of all wisdom and understanding. He understands our contexts/situations/culture so much better than we do. He is the ultimate place to go for a creative opinion. By bringing our hopes, dreams and ideas before God and asking for his guidance, we remember that these are not our ministries but His and He will equip us to further the work of His Kingdom amongst today’s young people.
2. Ask questions and listen well
What are young people saying? What are parents saying? What are teachers saying? Getting the thoughts of other stakeholders helps identify the opportunities in your context. Once you’ve found an opportunity, then you can start brainstorming ideas.
If you are creating a new programme for young people, asking for the opinions of said young people is essential. By involving youth in the conversation, you will not only end up with an idea they want to be involved in and something they want to invite friends to, but also something they feel they have ownership of.
Hand in hand with questioning goes the art of listening. However, listening takes practice in a world where we are constantly bombarded by noise and information. Young people dream big and their ideas are valuable. They love to be heard, so let’s love to listen.
3. Support crew
As with many things in life, having a good group of people around you makes things a whole lot easier. Form a creative thinking group: discuss the opportunities and needs you see in your young people; bounce ideas off them; get their thoughts and opinions; actively carve out time to brainstorm together; pray for one another. You want people who will encourage, support and fuel your desire for innovation. You want people who will stand behind your vision as you share it with your wider church/organisation.
However, another key role of your support crew is to challenge and question your ideas. Part of the innovation process involves re-evaluation and a willingness to let things go. You need people who won’t necessarily agree with everything you say. You need a team who will push you to consider things from every angle and who will keep you accountable to your original purpose and vision.
4. Notice innovation
We live in a society where “innovation” is the business buzzword of the decade. From tech corporations to retailers to independent coffee companies – everyone is striving for innovative practice. So, stop. Take a look around. What forms of innovation do you see in your day-to-day? Which innovative ideas do you think are brilliant, which ideas are rubbish? Why do you like some things? Why do you dislike others? Buy a notebook. Keep track of what you notice. Write down the things that inspire you. Use your observations to shape your thinking about innovation in your own context.
5. Challenge yourself
Spend time each week thinking creatively about your own life. It is so easy for us to get stuck in routine. While routine is great, it can sometimes block us off from innovation. So, try something new and change things up. Take up a new activity or go explore a new place. Adapt your routine. Maybe you could visit somewhere you go regularly with the aim of noticing something you haven’t seen before. Or sit somewhere different in your office and see things from another perspective. If innovation is creative problem-solving, we need to flex those creative muscles and embrace a future of innovative possibilities.
If you want to find out more about innovation in youth ministry, keep an eye out on our website for training courses such as the Youthscape/Princeton International Certificate in Youth, Theology and Innovation.