Mo’ Mo: Creating Momentum and Motivation in Student Ministry

It’s a roller coaster. It’s predictable. You can almost call it before you see it.

Anyone who has worked with teenagers knows that they are people of extremes. This is painfully evident when they have a crush. The minute they determine that their romantic feelings are returned by a person of the opposite gender, it’s head-over-heels love. It’s 4-hour phone conversations, and all-day text threads. It’s names encircled by hearts on notebook covers. It’s one-week anniversary presents. You couldn’t fit a credit card in between them; surely, this is the one! Then, a month later when they run out of things to talk about and the excitement wains, one of the two decides it’s time to move on. The low is equally extreme. It’s missed meals. It’s 2-hour cry sessions while they wear out their favorite breakup song on their iWhatevers. It’s “I can’t live without her” followed by “I never want to see her again” 5 minutes later. You couldn’t get them to hold hands to play Red Rover. Then, they both meet someone else, and the cycle begins anew.

The same is true in their walks with God. You can probably set your watch by it:

  • Holiday Youth Convention – HIGH!
  • Beginning of summer – low
  • Youth Camp – HIGH!
  • School starts – low
  • Back-to-School Rallies – HIGH!
  • Holiday season approaching – low

On and on it goes. As a Student Pastor, you may feel like you’re running on a hamster wheel; you’re exuding a lot of effort, but you aren’t moving your group forward. What is the key to getting off of this roller coaster and out of this hamster wheel? How do we move our students from ebbing and flowing with the changing seasons to consistently moving forward in their relationships with God?

We need mo’ mo: MOre MOtivation.

I have found that the key to motivation is anticipation.

Think about it. If you’re a casual NFL fan, there is nothing more uninteresting than the preseason. The roster that takes the field will be dwindled down from 80 players to 53 players, only 45 of which will be active on game day. After one or two quarters into the game, the coach is inserting players who may not even be in the league when the games start counting. Even the announcers sound bored by the time the game reaches the 4th quarter, when coaches are playing the very bottom of their depth chart, hoping they will see one or two things that stick out to them on cut day.

However, even as a causal fan, it doesn’t take much to get you interested in the Super Bowl. After 16 weeks of regular season games and a playoff field of 12 teams being whittled down to 2, the nation prepares to watch the two greatest teams in the world square off for a chance to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Super Bowl Sunday has become the third largest “holiday” for American grocers, right behind Thanksgiving and Christmas. No one has to hype you up. No one has to talk you into watching. It’s such a big deal that many churches have even begun airing the game in an effort to attract visitors.

Why are people so motivated to watch a Super Bowl, yet largely uninterested in preseason games? Anticipation! When you sit down to watch the Super Bowl, you sit down expecting to see a great game. You expect to see the best of the best competing. You expect to be entertained for three solid hours. Even the commercials have us on the edge of our seat, as we expect to see the fruits of millions of advertising dollars spent to amuse or inspire us.

Our student ministries are no different. Why are students so motivated to go to HYC, Youth Camp, and other big church events? They are anticipating something incredibly life-changing taking place. They expect the worship service to be dynamic. They expect the preaching to be powerful. They expect the atmosphere to be electric. They expect the altar call to be…well…altering.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you that the breakthrough for which we were looking in our student ministry occurred when we started focusing on building anticipation in our students. Here are four key ways we did it. They all begin with “P,” so we will consider them “The 4 P’s for Mo’ Mo:”

  • Prayer. I know I talk about this often on this blog, as if it were some sort of cure-all. Well, it is! Prayer is the most important aspect of our walk with God. I have never met someone who prayed regularly who did not anticipate God doing great things in his/her life. Because they are anticipating a move of God, no additional motivation is required to engage them in the service. They KNOW God will move, so they are motivated to seek Him.
  • Participation. Why do WE get so excited about Youth Service, Sunday School, and Student Ministry events? We’re involved! We’ve spent time praying and studying. We’ve spent time working on graphics and decorations. We spent time promoting and preparing. During all of this, we are dreaming and envisioning all the great things that can happen. By the time we get to the service or event, we’ve invested so much into it that we can’t help anticipating something great. Students are no different. If students show up to services where other people are always playing instruments, other people are always singing, other people are always leading, and other people are always speaking, it’s hard to keep the anticipation high. As much as I believe in great graphics and captivating, culturally relevant series topics (and I am a huge fan of both), those things will only go so far toward building momentum. If we want to elevate the students’ participation, we need to get them involved! Nothing creates anticipation in the heart of students as when they are singing, they are playing, their friends are leading prayer, their friends are preaching, etc. Some of the most powerful services we had was when I turned my pulpit over to a student. The messages were short and often disjointed at best, but the students were so motivated by seeing their peers step out in faith that they rushed the altar.
  • Planning. I won’t cover this in tremendous detail, because I have done so in several other posts. I will simply say that part of motivating your students is building momentum into the calendar. We tried to make sure we had a major event at least every other month. The students would circle these on their calendars and count down to them. Since they were involved in preparing decorations, putting songs together, developing games, etc., their anticipation was sky-high by the time the event arrived. Our biggest event of the year was always our annual Youth Week. Quite honestly, it was the biggest event our church did all year. It was an opportunity for students to connect with some of the speakers they heard at youth events. They were involved in every aspect of the event. Whether you have 3 students or 300, I strongly encourage you to host a Youth Week (if you don’t already). I had the opportunity to preach a Youth Week for a very small youth group, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. The students from that youth group still reflect on it when we see each other. There are many people who do an incredible job with this. Find a couple of people who have hosted one and pick their brains until you come up with a plan that works for your students!
  • Persistence. Even if you do each of the things I’ve outlined above, you will find that there are still occasional periods of spiritual lull. As a Youth Pastor, you must exert your God-given authority, draw a line, and refuse to accept it! I realize it’s harder than it sounds. Much of our success, I feel, came from the fact that I simply refused to allow our students to not press for a move of God. I recall several times when I preached my heart out with passion and conviction, only to give way to a tepid altar call. At that point, I would bring all of the students together and press until they responded. This is more about you than it is the students! It’s much more comfortable for us to say, “Well, there’s always next week.” This may be true, but if we string enough “next weeks” together, we’ll find our group in a serious dry spell. Don’t let that happen! Teach them to push through to the Spirit even when it doesn’t come easily. Teach them to never allow themselves to just go through the motions. Teach them that every service matters!

What about you? How do you generate mo’ mo? Comment below with your thoughts!

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