QUESTION: Our group still feels really segregated and not like a family. What d,o you think we should do?
There’s a lot of ways to tackle a question like this and but it can be hard to do without physically being in the room with the youth group in question each week. However, from a 10,000-foot view, there are some ways we can look at a situation like this.
#1 Personal View
The goal here is to look at your world through fresh eyes. Often we become blind over time to what’s going on around us. We miss the little things because we are to busy chasing other issues and people. As primary pastors and leaders are attention can be split, but if we take an intentional step back and see the whole picture, we can start to see with fresh eyes. However, it requires us to ask tough questions that can be personal because we’re often the architects of our environments and programs. Here are some questions to consider…
- What does Youth Group look like through the eyes of a new/old student? What obstacles are in their way? Where could they use support?
- Does the set-up of the room help or hurt the community?
- Where do the pockets of students spend their time? Think of physical location…
- What activities, tasks or set-up reinforces community or hurts community?
#2 Programing View
Within most Youth Ministries, you can sum up most program elements into two main categories of time. The time spent IN and OUT of Small group.
- IN – In Small Groups, you need to make sure leaders are actively working on mixing and matching students within their groups. They can mix kids for conversation, activities, prayer, snacks or whatever, but the goal is still the same, to actively try and pair different kids within the group together. This helps reinforce the values you’re trying to create on a smaller scale, but it has the potential to impact the whole group. This is also an excellent time to make sure leaders are spending time getting to know each student, not just select individuals within the group.
- OUT – Out of Small Groups, you need to mix students in everything that you do and help them meet new people. This takes very intentional work and needs to be partnered with everything in this article. Games are a great way to mix kids, but so is something as simple as getting students to cross the room for a handshake and one-minute conversation. The secret is that it has to be intentional; it cannot be an afterthought. It needs to become part of the foundation of your group and reinforced over and over again. It will take time for this to take root, but once it does, it tends to grow on its own.
- EXAMPLE: A great example of this are two former students Valerie and Karley. They had been going to Youth Ministry together for years and were even in the same grade. However, they had never really talked or connected at that time. Then they moved from Middle School into a High School program that was extremely intentional about mixing and mashing students together. The first event they attended was Color Wars, and in that one event, they became inseparable. They had been in Youth Ministry for years together but had not been in an environment that reinforced community in every aspect. One intentional night created a bond that has lasted, and both students can’t believe it didn’t happen earlier.
#3 Leadership View
The first two views are important but without a Leadership Team that is fully on board with students becoming a community together, it’s always going to be an uphill battle.
- ADULT TEAM – As a whole leadership team, you need to model and demonstrate what it means to “walk across the room” and connect with someone else. It needs to come from every leader every week. It doesn’t mean they need to connect with twenty kids, but they need to connect with one. This cannot be understated. You need leadership that will model the kind of community you want to build. If they don’t or can’t, you need to consider adding leaders who can.
- STUDENTS – The other side of this is where Student Leadership comes in. I believe that “students are the best equipped to reach students for Jesus” because they can relationally do what I cannot. You have students who are influencers in your group because everyone influences someone. If you want to change the culture, you need to empower students to take ownership and equip them with the tools they need to be a “family.” They need to actively leave their group of friends and see out one “new to them” student every week. It’s hard and often messy, but if your student leaders can get hold of this vision, shifting the culture would be a 1000x easier, but it will always start from the bottom up and not just the top down.
The first two views are intended to help you understand your world and to learn to think critically about your Youth Ministry. However, the secret to not having a segregated Youth Ministry is Leadership, especially the student leadership element. Any ministry I have ever run that has been successful, has at its core, been a “family,” a place where everyone could belong. Did it work for everyone NO, were kids missed still YES… but ask anyone if they felt they could belong and I hope the answer was yes.
- Step #1 – Take a look at your ministry with fresh eyes and be honest with yourself. Consider inviting some people into the process.
- Step #2 – Talk about the kind of community you want to build with your leadership team. Answer their questions and concerns and rally their support. Get them to brainstorm how they can mix and mash different kids together in their Small Group time.
- Step #3 – Cast the vision with a small influential group of students in your ministry and challenge them with one goal. Each week have them connect with one new person and connect that new person with one other person. That’s it nothing crazy, just an intentional connection point each week.