Back when Spiderman was a cartoon on TV, I can’t remember a single episode where he didn’t catch the criminal in a web. Youth ministers can learn a lot from Spiderman and spiders about how to get youth to stick to their youth groups. We must build a web of relationships that positively trap and help youth stick to and with the ministry.
Kara Powell and Fuller Youth Institute’s College Transition Project are calling churches to become 5:1 congregations. They are encouraging churches to ensure that every youth has five caring adults from that congregations walking with them in a variety of ways along their journey of faith. Research shows that more than anything else intergenerational relationships are a key indicator to “sticky faith.”
Mark DeVries, President of Youth Ministry Architects, and I have begun using the imagery of a spider web to describe how a youth ministry can build a web of adult relationships that have a significant impact on young people’s faith.
One of our jobs is to ensure that youth are surrounding by adults who care deeply for each youth. This is not only a biblical mandate to be the Body of Christ, but also a vow that many traditions take as they nurture a child “in the ways that lead to life.”
I would like to push Fuller’s recommendations even further and recommend that the number should be seven adults loving, caring, and mentoring each youth in our ministries. A web of relationships that has seven anchor points is going to hold tightly to a young person. If each of these persons is in an active relationship with a teenager, one where they know them and the youth knows they can trust them, then they are unlikely to fall away from the church. A web of relationships creates relational stability.
Notice would happen if one of these relationships ended because the person moved away or for some other reasons. You have six other relationships continuing to stick with that youth. Even if the youth minister leaves, you still have six caring adults who are still there for that young person!
We all know the mistake that many youth ministers and churches make of isolating the youth ministry from the rest of the church. What we thought was an investment in youth by building youth houses or rooms in the basement has turned out to be detrimental to young people’s faith because they do not have enough real relationships with mature Christian adults who model the faith for them for faith to stick. And lest we not forget the youth minister who tries to be superman or superwoman and be the relational superstar for every youth. We are all too aware of the roller coaster that sends a youth ministry down as youth ministers come and go. Youth pay the price.
Each point on this web becomes a “youth” minister to that youth. They share their love for Christ with that youth. They spend time with them. They are there for them when times are difficult or to celebrate accomplishments. They are invested in that young person’s lives. They pray for them. Each point on the web will do these things differently, but the combined impact will be the same…
Youth who can’t help but to experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ because seven saints cared deeply for them.
Building a youth ministry in a church full of relationship webs takes a long time, but as we say at CYMT “good youth ministry doesn’t just happen.”