What Elmo Taught Me

Having a 3.5 year old fall in/out of love with Elmo reminds me a lot of problematic youth ministry.

Children are Particular

For those of you without toddlers let me let you in on a little secret and one of our epic fails as new parents. Toddlers get tunnel vision on what they’re interested in. Suddenly my child loved Sesame Street and Elmo. She’d dance to the theme song and recognize all the characters. Sesame Street is great, so of course we reinforced this at her 2nd birthday party by having everything “Elmofied”. Elmo birthday cake, balloons, comfy chair, rocking Elmo, you name it, we had it! I’ll admit it, we sold out to Elmo in a big way and it was impressive. What was my child’s reaction? Fear. Panic. Tears. Screaming. Avoidance.

Apparently she clued in to the fact one of Elmo’s best friends is a cookie addict, and she didn’t want to hang out with the wrong crowd anymore. Now we are donating a rocking Elmo and chair that she walks the long way around the room to avoid, and the infamous sock bin is behind closed doors at all times. So, what does this failed parenting have to do with Youth Ministry?

Tunnel Vision

I get that it is hard trying to find a game or outreach that goes over well with teens. But we milk it to death. I get to visit a lot of parishes as a speaker and in my job as a Diocesan Coordinator for Youth Ministry. Parish visits are by far the most rewarding part of my ministry, and also the most frustrating. I’ve seen some places where the Youth Ministry looks the same over a decade later when the youth and culture are not the same.. I see the same games, same events, same outreach, same volunteers, and we expect different results?

Just because a game is legendary because it has been around forever, doesn’t mean it is actually very good. We need to be careful that we haven’t “Elmofied” our ministry and gone all in on one method. Because ladies and gentleman; Elmo was two years go. Dora was last year, and now it is all about the Tinkerbell.

Don’t Get Lazy

The worst part about tunnel vision is we get lazy and then face the consequences:

  • Everything seems stale and old.
  • Team synergy is gone, and so are ace volunteers.
  • Failure to disciple because teens weren’t equipped, challenged, and engaged with new horizons.
  • Might be leading Selfie Youth Ministry.

Add New/Edit/Undo

You are the plan – David Wells

We are called to use our God given talents to respond to the needs set before us and entrusted to us by God and His church. We need to take time to get feedback from teens and parents as well as with our leaders minimum 4/year to do the following:

Check up    How healthy is youth ministry right now? What's working, what's failing, what's missing? 
Add New     What gap needs to be addressed? 
Edit        What needs to stick around but be revised? 
Undo        What needs to stop?

Feel free to answer these questions in the comments!

Youth ministry is an ongoing process and relationship that require heroic courage. But we will fail 100% of the time if we succeed once and never try again.



Colm Leyne

Colm Leyne is a Christian Father, Husband, & Best Uncle Ever.

In Youth Ministry for 16 years, now as Coordinator for Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. He strives to speak & write things that others find uplifting and empowering.

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