The Past and Future of Youth Ministry International

One of our colleagues wrote this update earlier this year, and I think it’s helpful to understand the direction of our organization, Youth Ministry International, throughout the world.

The man often called “The Father of Modern Missions” inspired people with these words: “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.” (“for God” and “from God” was added later, but appropriate). Here are some of the great things that YMI is attempting:

Our President, Dr. Randy Smith, began taking youth groups on missions trips decades ago. As those missions trips experienced blessings and fruit from local outreach, he quickly began to see a huge issue that needed to be addressed. It was great to see young people come to Christ, but what happens after the American youth ministry leaves? Who is left to follow up with discipleship and continue the evangelism? Local leaders obviously needed to be developed among the national adult Christians. So he started YMI over twenty years ago.

As YMI began sending missionaries and other short-term workers to train national leaders to lead youth ministries in local churches, the focus was completely on informal training (i.e. not through formal courses in a Bible school or seminary). As YMI trained leaders in the cross-cultural principles of youth ministry, it immediately had an impact. However, there was still a major issue. As Randy wrote in his dissertation,

These results were indeed encouraging until a reoccurring problem began to surface with alarming consistency; many, if not most, of the national youth leaders being trained eventually and of apparent necessity left the church in which they were serving due to financial hardships, or even due to being “promoted” to senior pastor positions. Moreover, I noticed that when the youth leader left the church, the youth ministry attendance dropped significantly or even died due to the inability of the remaining volunteers to maintain the needed level of involvement to perpetuate the success of the ministry. What became apparent was that this level of national leadership training did not foster on-going next- generational ministry to youth in the churches, but was totally dependent on the tenure of the one trained leader.

When I began asking youth leaders in the various countries in which we were conducting our training what needed to be done to address the above mentioned problem, the unanimous response was that they needed a formal degree in youth ministry. Their rationale was that with a degree, the position of youth pastor or youth director would be given the proper respectability by the church and denominational leadership needed to embrace a full-time position (whether vocational or bi-vocational). This new respect would then create a desire within the denomination leadership to provide the needed expertise for those trained national leaders to further train their volunteers and thus perpetuate the ministry of youth for the long term.

As we began using theological education (carefully mixed with practical experience), youth ministers trained by YMI began to stay in their positions longer. Some began getting paid to work in the church and others simply stayed committed to it even if they had to work another job.

There’s been one other shift of focus in recent years. We have always worked towards the goal of handing over even the training to nationals. Now, however, we have a clearer exit strategy. This came about as an experiment in Cuba developed. Leaders in Cuba continued to pursue Randy about training their leaders in spite of the fact that YMI had no one they could send to train them. So they eventually decided on a completely unique approach: Send in youth ministry trainers/professors from the States twice a year to teach 12 students who were committed to becoming the teachers, trainers, and professors themselves upon completion of a masters degree! The result? The three major regions of Cuba now have their own Cuban youth ministry professors who are training leaders in the seminary
and local churches with no need of Americans! After it was all said and done, Randy went to Cuba to do follow-up research to see how the churches with YMI-trained youth ministers were doing. Here’s the short story:

Before YMI began our training, there were no full time paid youth directors in Cuba, now, there are more than 30. And, as I inquired about the ministries in their churches, I was brought to tears as I discovered that after applying the training, virtually all of the youth ministries have doubled and tripled in size! Evangelism and discipleship among the youth (ages 12-25) is at an all time high! One pastor told me that the *youth ministry ignited a revival in their church that is continuing to present day*! This story was repeated all over Cuba. And, currently they have more than 30 new students who are in the process of taking the Youth Ministry Degree…multiplication is happening!

Today we want to continue to do everything we can to place the emphasis on multiplying ourselves through national leaders in a similar manner whenever we enter another country. It won’t always look the same, but the principles will be consistent.

This summer at our bi-annual Summit, Randy shared a 15-year vision for YMI. Our goals can be summed up with the following numbers. Two quick words before you look at them. 1. These are desired outcomes that we pray will be the result of our intentional training. God gives the results. We just need to dream big and ask God for His blessing. 2. These are things we see developing already. So we are avoiding working aimlessly by setting specific goals.

In 15 years, we would like to see:

  • 10– New regional international trainers (people like myself. We have 5)
  • 100– Center for Youth Ministry training programs across the globe (We now have 14)
  • 1,000 – National professors (at least in training) at least part-time (We now have 101)
  • 10,000 – Graduates of Centers for Youth Ministry (includes those taking simplified certificate degrees who are taught by national professors. We have have 597)
  • 100,000 – Trained church youth worker volunteers (Includes informal seminars and local church work. Accomplished by our graduates. We now have just under 10,000)
  • 1,000,000 – Discipled youth between the ages of 11-25 annually. (Not simply young people who raised a hand at a crusade, but who are also being discipled. We now have over 107,000 reported for the past years. Yes, we have to work with estimates here! We have done the best we can to do it with integrity)
  • 10,000,000 – Youth ages 11-25 who attend a solid evangelical church where a YMI-trained youth pastor or volunteer is leading and has been trained formally or informally by YMI. (Estimates are now at 225,000)

Please pray for us as we “attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.”

If you would like to help us accomplish these goals and be a part of what God is doing to reach and disciple the youth of the world, please check out how you can Join our Team.