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Start Your Youth Ministry With WHY

Youth ministry can be a tough gig.

Long hours, late nights, little recognition. You work in a context where everyone has an opinion on how to do your job correctly. You help young people navigate the pressures, influences and anxieties of life. It gets messy.

At some point, anyone who has been involved in youth ministry for a while has asked, “why the heck am I doing this?”

Answering that question is important. Really important. After more than a decade in Catholic youth ministry, I can confidently say that if you’re starting (or re-starting) a ministry, you need to start by answering that question. You need to start with WHY.

Why? (See, you’re already getting the hang of it.) Because when you do, it has a huge positive impact on your (1) FOUNDATION, (2) MOTIVATION, and (3) COMMUNICATION.


Your WHY should be the foundation of everything you do in ministry. It should be the primary reference point for deciding the things you say “yes” to and (just as importantly), when you say “no.”

In the Diocese of Auckland, one of the teams I manage is our University Chaplaincy. This is a well-established institution. There has been a university chaplaincy close to the central university campus in our Diocese for 20 years.

Like many ministries that have been around for that long, the clarity of University Chaplaincy’s why had faded over time. There was an established ministry model and a weekly calendar of events, but the WHY for a lot of it ended up being “because this is what we’ve always done.”

So, we asked ourselves the fundamental question: WHY does University Chaplaincy exist?

As a team, we came up with a few answers.

  • The transition to university life can be isolating. Students often move from a high school community where they’ve got a clear identity to this new (and often lonely) world. Students need a place where they can belong.
  • University is a challenging time. Students typically face a lot of big questions about their career, their identity and who they want to be. Students need someone to walk with them and provide guidance on the journey.
  • University life is also a fantastic time to grow in faith. Students are uniquely positioned for academic exploration, self-reflection, and learning more about Catholicism.

We took all of these answers and refined them into our WHY. For us, the articulation of this WHY took the form of a Vision Statement for what the University Chaplaincy would accomplish in our Diocese:

Every university student in Auckland has the opportunity to belong to a vibrant Catholic community, where they are empowered to realise their God-given purpose.

Once we got clear on our WHY, things started to change. Previously, we did a lot of one-off social events on holidays like Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc.  To some extent, these events helped to build community, but they weren’t empowering students to realise their God-given purpose.

To better align with our WHY, we decided to redirect the energy we were investing in these one-off events and instead run Alpha, a 10-week course that explores the fundamental questions of Christianity.

Over the next few weeks, we watched a handful of our regular students step out of their comfort zone and start leading small groups as part of Alpha. Other students stepped through the our doors for the first time and, as part of Alpha, were discussing questions like “What do I believe about God?”

What was absolutely clear is that we had taken a step towards our vision. We were empowering students to realise their God-given purpose. Once you have your WHY, you have a lot more clarity about what your ministry should (and shouldn’t) be doing.


Your WHY should be the driving force behind your ministry. It should be the thing that gets you out of bed on a Friday morning, the reason you have a massive smile on your face at youth group that night, and the thing you keep coming back to when your enthusiasm is fading.

It has to be. Because ministry can be brutal sometimes. Disappointment, lost sleep and unexpected criticism are all par for the course.

Reflecting on the importance of our WHY for motivation, I’m reminded of the conversation between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection (John 21).

In the weeks prior, Peter had run away from Jesus, denied him, and returned to his old life as a fisherman. Jesus meets Peter on the shore and asks him the same question three times, “Do you love me?”

Jesus isn’t asking because he doesn’t know the answer. He asks to remind Peter of his why. Peter had left his old life behind because he loved Jesus and that WHY calls him back to a life of ministry.

It’s a WHY so powerful that Peter is eventually willing to die for it.


Let’s say that you want to start a youth group. You’ll quickly learn that your church has a child safeguarding policy, and as part of that policy, you need a certain adult-child ratio to run your group.

So, you get up in church one Sunday, adjust the microphone from little-old-lady height, and say,

“Hi everyone, we want to start a youth group. As part of the church’s Safeguarding policy, we need at least 3 other adults to be part of it. If you think you could help, please come and speak to me.”

The message you’ve communicated, loud and clear, is: “please give up your Friday nights so that our adult-to-child ratio is correct.”

An inspiring call to action.

There’s another way that you could do this announcement. You could get up on Sunday and say,

“Hi everyone. When I was a teenager, I was part of a fantastic Catholic youth group. It helped me form good friendships, grow in my faith, and it’s a big reason why I’m part of this parish today.

Our young people need that as well – they need a fantastic youth group where they can form solid friendships and grow in their faith. We want to make that happen at our parish, but to do it, we need at least four adult leaders. So if you’re an adult, and you’re interested in being part of this important project, please come as speak to me after mass.”

See the difference?

In the second example, people who volunteer aren’t just helping to meet a child safeguarding requirement. They are going to be joining because they want to be part of an important project for the young people of their parish.

When you’re clear on your WHY, it’s easy to clearly communicate that to others, and that is the start of a great communications strategy.


You can get by in youth ministry without a WHY. Plenty of youth ministries do. But your ministry will just be getting by.

If you want a solid foundation, constant motivation and clear communication, having a clear purpose is essential. If you want your ministry to achieve its full potential, you need to start with WHY.

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4 People Replies to “Start Your Youth Ministry With WHY”

  1. Nic Cardone

    Great info here. Very thought provoking. I have always thought about the ‘why’ but I hadnt thought about how the ‘why’ leads to inform the other 3 areas. And my favourite laugh was the reference to the ‘little-old-lady’ height of the church microphone 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment Nic! Fantastic to hear from you. When we are clear on our WHY, I think we almost can’t help but have it inform every other area of our ministry.

  2. Fr Josh Whicker mgl

    Phenomenal mate. Clear and succinct and shows the importance of knowing who we are and what we’re about, rather than just going through the motions!

    1. Thanks for the comment Fr Josh! I couldn’t agree more – knowing our WHY is so important to avoid falling into the trap of going through the motions.

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