Changing The Trajectory Of Your Youth Ministry

Changing the Trajectory of Your Youth Ministry:

From a ministry to students, to students having ministry to the world.

by John Vandervelde


In 1994 Doug Franklin, a youth pastor in Wheaton, IL, launched a non-profit organization called LeaderTreks in his basement.  That summer Doug and a small staff ran 4 mission trips for churches that were looking for something more out of their annual summer trip.  These youth workers were looking for more challenge, deeper discipleship, intense spiritual growth, and real leadership development for their students.  LeaderTreks delivered those things then, and we continue to deliver them today, in fact, 20 years later we’re still working with those 4 original churches…as well as over 3,500 more.


Today LeaderTreks runs leadership development focused mission trips and wilderness trips all over the world for youth ministries.  We lead unique, experiential leadership-training events at churches, colleges, and high schools.  We’ve created Refuel Retreat, a youth worker training event unlike any other because we love and care for youth workers and we want to help them be the best they can be as they lead their ministries.  We produce over 150 different curriculum resources designed specifically for youth ministries.  We have resources for Disciple Now events, mission trips, bible studies, mentoring relationship, small groups, and just about every other topic you can think of in youth ministry.


We run these programs and offer these resources because we love students.  We love it when they come alive and lead.  Because we love students we also love the youth workers who are in the trenches with them 52 weeks a year.  We are passionate about youth workers succeeding.


In my work at LeaderTreks one of my favorite questions to ask a youth worker after I get to know them a little bit is, “So do you have a ministry to students or do your students have a ministry to the world?”  For most it’s not a simple question to answer, but often the response goes something like this, “I really want to disciple students and help them have a ministry to the world, but the pressures around me tell me I need to just have a ministry to students coming to our church.”  I’m guessing many of you can relate.  Parental pressure, church leadership expectations, and students’ desires make it seem like the most important thing to do is focus on having fun with and trying to teach the students you have.  It’s not unusual, in fact many youth ministries pour all their time, energy, and resources in to running great programs for the students in their church to learn from and enjoy.  They entertain them with great games, they make them laugh with funny skits, and they pump them up for Jesus with fantastic experiences…  But have they developed disciples?  Have they helped create leaders with the character ready to weather the storms of life and make an impact for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom wherever they go?  Maybe, but in all likelihood, probably not.


At LeaderTreks we’re all about helping youth workers change the trajectory of their youth ministries to be about making disciples and growing leaders (here’s a video to help you visualize what I’m talking about). Don’t get me wrong, rah-rah events are fun, and crazy games are cool and definitely have their place, but if we know we have increasingly less time with students, and if we know that culture is waging a serious war for our student’s attention, shouldn’t our youth ministries be about so much more?  We think so, and we know you probably do to.


In over 20 years of doing youth ministry we know that one of the key ways to transform your ministry to being about students ministering to the world is to give your students tons of opportunities to lead.  We believe that evangelism, worship, missions, small groups, camps, and retreats are all good parts of youth ministry, we just think they’re better when they’re student led.  The more ways you can make your youth ministry about students being made into disciples and grown into leaders who can impact the world for Jesus the better it will be.


LeaderTreks has hundreds of ways we can help you make this happen.  We know each youth ministry is unique and a cookie cutter solution is not the answer.  So that’s why we have a team of youth ministry professionals here to answer your questions, listen to your problems, pray with you, and offer solutions that can really help.  Give us a call today at 1-888-502-0699 or shoot me an email,, we’re here for you to succeed.

John Vandervelde is the Executive Director of LeaderTreks