"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Urban Ministry

Developing an Urban Ministry

Tommy Carrington

It was over ten years ago when I was handed the keys to an old van, a list of 20 kids from one of Miami?s most crime-ridden communities, and given the mission to: rehabilitate these troubled kids. I had just accepted the position as the Liberty City Area for Miami Youth for Christ, and at that moment I began to doubt my calling to inner-city youth ministry.

With Bible-in-hand, one volunteer, and few resources, I set out to reach these kids for Christ. I felt alone, unprepared, and isolated from the rest of the Christian world.

Many lonely periods later, numerous frustrating nights, and many less hairs on my head, I was able to develop six Small Groups, reaching about ninety kids per week, with the help of five volunteers, and a massive dose of the God?s Grace. So how do you begin a youth group with kids in the inner-city . . . with virtually nothing?

It is important to note that there is no "magical formula." There really isn?t a "how-to" manual for urban ministry. The needs of kids are as diverse as the cultures, ethnic groups and personalities of those who make up the inner-city.

Although there are no set formulas, there are a few essential ingredients, which, if implemented, make it more likely for kids to want to keep coming back.

1. Identify your resources.

You might say, "I have nothing." But if you look around, you will begin to see that you do have something. You have at least three basic resources you can begin with:

(a) spiritual resources: Bible aids, books, Christian music, videos, etc.,

(b) Facility resources: access to church / school gyms, parks, and homes you can meet in, and

(c) people resources: adults who can help you, special speakers, and music groups who might be willing to come for free.

2. Develop a "flexible methodology."

What I have found is that something might work with one group of kids during a particular time, and not work with another set of kids at another time. You have to be flexible and sensitive to the needs of your group in order to reach them where they are at. Early on in my ministry I adopted a philosophy which basically said: "I am willing to do whatever it takes to reach these kids ... as long as I never compromise the message of Gospel." Paul espouses such a philosophy in 1Corinthians 9, where he states in verse 22: "... I have become all things to all men so that "by all possible means I might save some."

3. Be creative

Kids have been lectured to death. Dr. Howard Hendricks says: "it is a crime to bore kids with the Word of God." There are many ways to make your group exciting and creative. Don?t make youth night a miniature version of the Sunday morning service. Be creative. Try to include as many ingredients as possible. For example: crowd breakers, games, drama, mime, role-plays, group discussions, forums, contemporary Christian music, etc. If all you are doing is preaching at kids, there is a good chance they won?t be around for long.

4. Develop a healthy balance between fun and building relationships.

I wish I could truly say (in my best King James voice): "young people cometh to my Bible Studies because they want to heareth the word of Godeth"; or I wish there was truth in saying that kids come to hear the eloquent messages I stayed up all night to put together. I wish I could even say that they come because of their love for God and their deep commitment to Christ. Some do, but the vast majority of the un-churched kids I have worked with in the urban setting basically come to youth group for two reasons: fun and relationships.

I?ll admit it: In all honesty, that?s why I began to attend youth group as a kid . . . at least initially. Growing up in Jamaica there wasn?t a lot to do. So I attended the local youth group for the following main reasons:

(a) Fun: the youth leaders dared to allow us to have fun. We played games, went on trips, camps, all-nighters, and many other activities and,

(b) Relationships: I developed close friendships with the other kids who were there. And then I developed relationships with caring adults who didn?t just see me as a name on a roster, but who took the time to ask me how I was doing in school, and who talked to me openly and honestly about such tough topics as love, sex, and dating.

Paul told the church in Thessalonica: "we loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well . . ." (1 Thess. 2:8). Remember: "you can impress people from a distance . . . you can only impact them up close."

I can?t think of a single teenager who would say that the key spiritual event in their life was one of my creative talks or eloquent messages. Good messages are important, but kids will remember the times we spent together more than they will remember a sermon I preached.

5. Get the kids involved

Dr. Robert Laurent says the number one reason why kids leave the church is "lack of opportunity for church involvement." Kids need to feel that they are significant and valuable. If they don?t feel that from the church, they will go somewhere else where they can feel a sense of belonging. One of the most dangerous elements of cults and gangs is that they immediately give young people responsibilities and opportunities for involvement. Give the kids real responsibility. Allow them to fail. But let them know you believe in them and that they are valuable to you, and to the growth and development of the group.

6. Be committed for the long haul.

Almost nothing is stable in a young person?s life in the inner-city. Dr. John Perkins points out that 70 percent of inner-city children are growing up without a father. In order to make ends meet, their single-parent might have to move frequently, thus changing neighborhoods, friends and schools. If there is one thing that should remain consistent, it should be their youth worker -- the one positive adult role model this child may ever have.

7. Just do it!

A few years ago I met with a church in the inner-city to help develop a youth group. They met with the pastor and formed a steering committee, who met with the youth usher board, who combined with the youth choir, who reported to the mother?s board to discuss the feasibility of launching a ministry. The group never got started. The current leaders of the church contacted me recently to ask for help in trying again to get started. My first request of them was : "no more meetings -- Just do it!" And they did. Their youth group now meets on a regular basis.

As missionary / evangelist Amy Carmichael has said: "We have all of eternity to celebrate the victories ... but just a few short years to win them!" The time is ripe. The harvest is ready. Go for it!


Tommy Carrington has been doing evangelism and discipleship with inner-city students in Miami since 1985. He has been training churches in youth ministry since 1989 when he launched the first Urban Youth Workers Seminar in South Florida. Since then he has been conducting one-day workshops, consulting, and event planning for churches in urban communities. He now works full-time with Reach Out, bringing training to churches in cities across America.