The background: I attended a variety of church youth groups between the ages of 10-14ish, joined a joint-church youth group from the age of 16-18 and have helped at two youth groups. From my two most recent groups, I feel I have learnt so much about what makes a good youth group, so here are just a few of my thoughts!
Dear Christian youth leaders,
Firstly, thank you. Thank you for giving your time and your love and your energy to helping young people to grow in their faith. I have seen youth leaders make such an incredible difference in people’s lives (including mine). I have experienced some wonderful christian youth leaders, and I could not be more grateful for what they have done for me over the years.
One of THE most important aspects of any youth group I’ve been a part of has been the hospitality shown to the young people. The easiest way of doing this is simply to provide food, but this is also about listening to people’s wants and taking them on board. Are you providing an alternative food for the person who doesn’t like cheese? It’s also about being hospitable with your time. Don’t rush through the meal to get to the “good stuff”, I have seen so many great conversations come out of a meal time where young people feel safe to open up and ask the questions that are on their mind.
Learning to love the Bible
There is a wide range of views as to what should be the focus of a youth group. Should it be to teach them all about Jesus and how to live? Should we simply be trying to demonstrate God’s love without pushing too much “God stuff”. I think different things work for different groups, but the most important thing that I learnt at a youth group was to love the Bible. Every week we would open the Bible, explore what it had to say and discuss what we thought. There was never pressure to agree with the what the leaders said, we were always able to express our own thoughts, but from this I gained such a good foundation in knowing that the Bible was somewhere I could turn for help and advice.
Do you live out what you are teaching?
Think about the things you teach the young people in your group. Do you do these things? Do you read the Bible each day? Do you spend time in prayer? Are you a good role model of what it means to live a Christian life? Young people will see through your talk, unless you are living out what you say and modelling this to them in your daily life. Also, if you either don’t do these things or don’t want to admit that you do, you have no place telling other people that this is what they should be doing.
Do you want to be here?
When you see youth group coming up in your calendar, what do you think? Are you excited? Or are disheartened? Are you wishing you had a week off? If you aren’t looking forward to youth group, you need to ask yourself: why? If the idea of spending your evening with these young people, getting to know them, having fun and helping them on their journey of fun, doesn’t fill you with joy – then should you be doing it? If you don’t enjoy youth group, why do you expect the young people to enjoy it?
Stop asking them to bring their friends!
Every single time I hear a youth leader tell young people to invite their friends along, I cringe. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think one-off socials are bad – I think they CAN work well. But they don’t always work, and so often the “ask” comes across so badly and far too frequently. By continually asking young people to bring their friends, you give off the impression that the group you currently have is not enough for you, not good enough or big enough. You may have great intentions, but you’re going about this the wrong way. What you should be doing is creating an environment that makes them WANT to invite their friends along without being told to (yes, this is possible; yes, I have seen this happen).
These are just a few thoughts from my personal experience. What are your favourite things about your own youth group?