Creating A Family Spirit In Your Youth Ministry
By Jeanne Mayo
Look across your youth group and watch them as they gather into their small groups and talk and joke around. Watch how they interact. Even a casual observation will allow you to capture the essence of what many teenagers crave for today: FAMILY. ACCEPTANCE. BELONGING.
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, “Give me more than a youth ministry. Give me a youth family.” Unfortunately, that’s a little tougher than it sometimes sounds. Let me give you a few key principles that have helped to build a sense if “family” in our youth church.
1 Talk “family” on a consistent and purposeful basis in front of your youth church. Your words really are creative. I’ve lost track of the number of ways we reference “family” in OXYGEN (our local youth ministry). But let me give you a few of the phrases you would hear around here often.”
“We’re more than just people who show up in the same room for a couple of times each week. We’re family.”… “In OXYGEN, none of us are perfect. But we’ve got each other’s backs because we’re family.”… “Our 02 groups (small groups) are the way we make the larger family feel more personal.”…”We’re more than just another youth church around here…We’re becoming family.”
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. But 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.”
Just last weekend, OXYGEN hosted its annual flag-football tournament. The Super Bowl would have stiff competition in our eyes. Small groups team up against each other, complete with cheerleaders, chants, team t-shirts, and more. The championship was captured in a play-off game with a pass that occurred in the last 30 seconds. Now how much better can you get?
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” (Published by GROUP), I devote an entire chapter to this topic entitled, “Small Groups Made Easy.” That chapter alone makes the book truly invaluable to 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 currently 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 a Youth Leader and change your world.
This article “Creating A Family Spirit In Your Youth Ministry” written by Jeanne Mayo is excerpted from Simply Youth Ministry Newsletter at http://www.simplyyouthministry.com June 2007.