The Youth Ministry Your Students Are Searching For…
Remember watching re-runs of Different Strokes or The Waltons? It’s a great exercise for youth leaders in our era. Why? I think the shows like the Walton’s captured the essence of what many teenagers crave for today, FAMILY.
You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist to know the “why behind the what.” Today’s youth culture is surrounded by broken families, broken friendships, and broken hearts.
So the unspoken message is, “I need a FAMILY ROOM more than I need a CHURCH AUDITORIUM.”
Unfortunately, that’s a little tougher than it sometimes sounds. So let me share with you a few key principles that have helped to build a sense of “family” in our youth ministry.
1) Talk “family” on a consistent and purposeful basis in front of your students
Your words really are creative. I’ve lost track of the number of ways we reference “family” in 212 (our local youth ministry), but let me give you a few of the phrases you would hear around here often:
“Here in 212, we’re more than just people who show up in the same room a couple of times each week. We’re family.”
“In 212, none of us are perfect, but we’ve got each other’s backs because we’re family.”
“Our life groups (small groups) are the way we make the larger family feel more personal.”
Though those words may stick in your throat the first few times you say them, they are more powerful than you could realize. They are especially powerful when stated from a man because of this generation’s emotional hunger for an adopted dad or big brother they can look up to and feel connected with.
2) Eat together
I think I’ve maybe changed the Scripture just a little, but I often quote, “Where two or more are gathered together in His Name, there is food.” Don’t make this too tough. It can just be a stop together at the “Golden Arches” on the way home from a trip or a picnic on the 4th of July.
Jesus modeled this concept as He created His discipleship family. The New Testament is filled with times that He “broke bread with them.” It’s no coincidence that His last bonding time with the disciples before the Cross was not “The Last Teaching,” but rather, “The Last Supper.”
3) Play together
If you don’t have time to occasionally “play” with the students in your youth ministry, you might want to re-think your priorities. I often say that the youth ministry that “Prays together and PLAYS together, Stays together.”
Playing together is more than fun sports competitions. It’s creating fun in spontaneous ways all along the youth ministry journey. I often remind my students that, “Fun is not an activity, it’s an attitude.” So create a party in the unexpected moments of life.
4) Consider launching some form of small group strategy within your youth ministry
Even if your youth group has no more than 15-20 students, a small group approach would make a world of difference in creating family and the larger the youth outreach becomes, the more vital a strategic small group approach is.
Launching a small group ministry is not as challenging as it might sound. In “Thriving Youth Groups,” I devote an entire chapter to this topic entitled, “Small Groups Made Easy.” That chapter alone makes the book truly invaluable to the most sincere youth leaders.
All in all, this business of creating a sense of family in youth ministry is one of the most vital components to any significant ministry. Truth be told, it’s a challenge for many of us in youth ministry because we never had anyone do it for us. Yes, it’s tough to give away what you never experienced yourself, but I will tell you personally that there is a mountain of fulfillment in giving away to others what you perhaps never had yourself. So with that in mind, go be Youth Leader Walton and change your world.