Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is tough because it requires a more natural evolution than simply creating a program and getting people to become involved in it. As the earmark of Mutual Responsibility implies, discipleship is a two-way street. You need a rabbi (teacher) who is willing to invest themselves in a disciple, and you need a disciple who desires to be like the teacher. The reality is that we cannot force discipleship. In youth ministry, a youth must see something in an adult and develop a strong desire to be with them in order to become like them. In a discipleship group setting, a youth must see something good in a discipleship group, so much that they wish to be with the group and become like those in the group. My point is that this happens naturally, but a few key things are essential to making this take place.
Have Solid Groups
If you are a discipleship group leader, strive to make your group a place that is attractive to others. Fun is attractive, but depth is even more so (strive for both!). When someone comes to check out your discipleship group because their friend invited them, expose them to a group that is a living witness of authentic friendship and committed to growth.
Have Solid Adults
If discipleship groups are led by adults that are living witnesses of Christ’s love, it will attract youth that are seeking that love, and it will inspire parents as well. Look for adults that have humility, patience, and great care towards everyone they meet. Find adults who are committed to the daily sacrifice of following after Christ. A youth desiring to grow in their faith can spot an adult lacking in these things from a mile away.
Create Opportunities to Connect
It will be very difficult for youth to meet adults (and vice versa) unless there are opportunities to connect. The role of the parish leader oftentimes can be to play matchmaker, finding times where an adult might be able to meet a youth that they think may be a good match for a discipleship-focused relationship. An example would be to get an adult and several youth who you think might make a good discipleship group to all go on a trip together to a youth conference or mission trip. If they connect well, it can be an easy transition into a discipleship group afterwards, allowing them to continue building those relationships.
Youth will be drawn to healthy and fruitful relationships and opportunities for growth. It may take time, but I encourage you to let things play out naturally. When we get in the way and try to force things, it can oftentimes do more harm than good.