I once remember a friend of mine asking, “If you set up your youth group that way, what will make students have a desire to invite their friends?” He was speaking of the fact that the focus on our ministry was to be “relationally driven.” Sure we all talk about “discipleship” and “relationships,” however, I started to see I did just that. I talked about them, but I didn’t really have them. I played games for the sake of fun. I sang worship songs because that’s ”what you do.” The trouble was I’m not musical, and I didn’t have any students or volunteers who were either. I followed all the unwritten rules of the youth group formula. They weren’t working for me or my students.
I stepped back and looked at Christ’s model. He preached to the crowds, touched and healed a few, but the majority of His time was spent pouring into 12 guys, with 3 getting special attention. If Jesus was focused on eating, sleeping and teaching mainly 12 with a focus on 3, then that was the model I would follow.
Here’s what I did:
I started with brainstorming with my students about what they were looking for in “youth group.” Some of them liked to sing, others hated it. What they wanted was a place to seek truth, with authentic people who would become a second family to them.
Before I programmed ANYTHING I asked, “How will this build relationships?” So just to move to a small group model for the sake of having them wasn’t going to work. Instead of getting through a series of questions or pushing through a curriculum, the goal was to include every student in every conversation. What were the students able to take away with them? Could they apply at least one point the moment they walked out the door? Our opening time became much shorter. If we did play a game, or have an object lesson, it was all about building relationships with each other or for the purpose of making a point that would be discussed in small groups.
Many volunteers would ask me, “What do I have in common with this age?” So I started training my team in first steps to conversations, how to engage, how to not talk “at students” but with them, and how to deal with disruptions. These trainings are ongoing. I gave clear expectations of where we were headed, and what they needed to do to keep up with students. There were checklists for calling, texting and spending time with students not just during “youth group.”
One of the key elements was including volunteers and teens in our new model. We decided that an opening time of welcoming was needed. We allowed teens (with guidance) to plan and execute this time. In a practical sense this means that this time changes year to year as we have different students and adults in the mix. There have been dramas, worship, and video clips in that time to bring the message. The students are allowed to make this time theirs.
So I lied we do play games, but not every week. Students always shock me when they do use the word “fun” to describe our time together. I guess it’s because we laugh, and talk and go deep, but it’s not usually silly programming. Our method draws out the introverts and lets everyone engage. Yes, we even eat pizza together, take trips, and have outreach events however, all of this is done with that simple question, “If we do this , how will it build relationships?” AND THEY DO INVITE THEIR FRIENDS,,,
What about you? What are YOU doing to build relationships with your students?