Positive Youth Development & Youth Ministry

What exactly is positive youth development?  And, why exactly does it matter when working with young people?  What do young people need to be successful throughout their adolescent years?  How do we help young people acquire the skills necessary to transition to adulthood?

It’s hard to believe, but almost 23 years ago I sat in a room exploring the answers to these questions. I was attending training on the Advancing Youth Development curriculum created by AED/Center for Youth Development and Policy Research.  I had 9 months of experience in youth corrections and 6 months experience teaching independent living skills at Job Corps.  

Soon afterwards I became a facilitator of the curriculum. I then began training front line youth workers in how to best work with youth. There was certainly some irony in my becoming a trainer as many of the youth workers I trained looked at me as a young person at only 25 years old myself.  Yet, I had something that crossed all age boundaries…a passion for helping young people and those that served them.  And, I still have that same passion today.  

A Different Path

Even though I left the youth field to become a mom, I always found a place to serve young people.  Whether I have been homeschooling my 3 children, leading children’s ministry groups at church, participating in youth group activities, adapting children’s church curriculum to best fit small groups, designing and running an after school program at a local church, coaching basketball or soccer, leading and teaching in a homeschool co-op, I have volunteered for over 20 years with young people.  In each role, I have brought my knowledge about youth developmental needs and best practices in serving youth.  The Advancing Youth Development curriculum gave me a solid foundation for serving youth and I have internalized that.  

It genuinely surprises me when people say statements like those listed below.

  • Young people don’t want someone my age telling them what to do.
  • I don’t have anything to offer a youth program.
  • I am scared to work with young people.
  • What do young people really know?
  • Young people just need to be respectful and things will be okay for them.
youth group positive youth development

How Youth Ministry and Youth Development Connect

God has been working in my heart for years.  Most recently, I have felt an incredibly strong urge to share a positive youth development approach within the youth ministry field.  How does a curriculum that was created out of a partnership with the juvenile justice system connect to a faith ministry?  Not all the youth in our church programs are considered “at-risk” youth.  However, the truth of the matter is that all youth are at risk for something.  What exactly that something is varies based on their environment, support network, development, and access to services and opportunities.  I’ll talk more about what youth are at-risk for in future blog posts.  

Sometimes I believe we have a false sense of security when we are working in a church program.  We can falsely believe that the young people are coming because they are seeking God.  Without a doubt, many youth do come for that reason.  Yet, I also know some youth come because they are lost, scared, need somewhere safe to be.  Some youth attend for fun and to hang out with friends. I also know that many youth are made to attend youth group.  Yep, I am one of those parents that sends their children to youth group as a commitment to our walk with the Lord.  What my children choose to do while there, is entirely up to them.  The bottom line is that young people have to want to grow in their faith. 

Regardless of why youth are in church, volunteers have an opportunity to positively impact them in many ways. And, for me, that is just one of the reason’s understanding and embracing a positive youth development approach is important.  We have to be able to have an impact on them beyond just introducing them to God.  As a youth volunteer, we have to be able to provide security, safety, structure.  They need to know we care and are reliable. Young people are seeking so much more than just a program when they walk into church.  Furthermore, I firmly believe that understanding youth development will help us reach them and help them grow in their faith while also meeting their developmental needs.

Role of the Volunteer 

“But I just want to volunteer!” 

That thought or something similar might be going through your mind! What if learning more about youth development would help you be more confident when around young people? What if you could engage more effectively with them? Or, what if you could create stronger relationships with youth?  Really, what have you got to lose?

I want to encourage you to keep coming back to read more blog posts at www.jesusismyhashtag.com. The “Understanding Youth Development” section will define positive youth development, outline the 12 developmental outcomes of youth, identify challenges in serving youth, and share best practices in engaging young people.  And, true to youth development, I will be incorporating youth insight and feedback through interviews and surveys of young people. After all, who knows young people better than young people themselves.  

Make sure you subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss a post on youth development.  And, if you find this useful, please share these posts with other youth ministry volunteers and leaders.  

Join me as we make #jesusismyhashtag a reality for our young people!

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  1. Hi.

    It was interesting reading your post. I also have 20 years hands on involvement in youth ministry.

    I just completed studies in youth development and I’m seeking to now focus more on training and curriculum guidance for youth leaders and volunteers.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. God bless as you keep up the good work in the world of youth ministry.

    1. Nadia,

      Thanks for you comment. My heart and passion is for young people! I used to serve as a trainer of a positive youth development curriculum. I would train front line youth workers, but we didn’t have a connection to the youth ministry field. But, I know the need to train our youth ministry volunteers in the best approach to working with young people.

      Thanks for the encouragement.


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