Don't be a Mickey Mouse Youth Ministry
By Josh Sanchez
Youth Ministry Consultant
Throughout my life, I have always traveled around and have met people from all over the world. Whenever they ask me where I'm from, I say one of two things. I either say I'm from Los Angeles because everyone knows LA, or I say Anaheim because everyone knows Disneyland.
Have you ever been to Disneyland? It's an amazing place. People from all walks of life come together to the happiest place on Earth. As a pastor from Anaheim, I am very familiar with Disneyland. I hear their fireworks every night, I visit every few years, and I watch most of their movies. I’m not a Disney hater by any means—I actually believe the church can learn a lot from them—but I don’t believe the church should be like the most loved rodent in the world, Mickey Mouse. You may be thinking, “Why? Mickey is so loved and well known! Doesn’t that sound like characteristics that we want for the church?” Yes, those are good things, but if you’re familiar with the iconic mouse, you would know that his image has been simplified into 3 simple circles. Often, our youth ministries (or whole churches even) can become like these separated circles. The youth function separately from the adults and create what one of my youth ministry mentors, Daryl Watts, calls a one-eared Mickey. In other words, when youth ministry does not come together it creates a siloed group that has plenty of passion but is inherently not healthy because it’s disconnected from the whole body.
I suggest two things to avoid becoming a Mickey Mouse youth ministry. First, keep the students in Sunday service if possible. I understand having a midweek service that is geared towards students—in fact, I would encourage it—but I believe separating junior high and high school students from the adults creates a mindset that students cannot handle adult topics, but also that they are not a part of “big church”.
Second, get students involved in the Sunday service. Give them big roles where they have real responsibility. At our church, the majority of our service is run by college and high school students. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the students who stay in church are usually those that are involved in ministry. This can be a great way to mentor students and to allow them to have ownership over the church.
If you’re in a context where changing these two areas of ministry is difficult, then consider figuring out ways that the youth can stay connected to the adults. They need the wisdom from those that are older as well as a proper picture of what the Church is. It’s not a place just for fun and games, but it should be a place for sacrifice, community, and love. My hope is that you can build a better ministry today by being better together.