On the 2nd night of Kim and I meeting with our community group, we had the opportunity to share the details of our past. It was tough.
After sharing, I definitely believe that something becomes so real when you open the doors to your peers and allow for them to gain “access” to your life. Last week I mentioned how freeing this can be, and how important it is to your benefit, and your growth as a human being.
The same goes with youth ministry.
For a while, I struggled trying to connect with students. I thought being their “friend” or dressing cool, or even learning their lingo would allow for a relationship in which these kids would respect me, and listen to every word I had to say. Oh, I forgot to mention I was in my early 20’s, pre-children, so needless to say was I completely wrong on almost every level.
Here’s what would happen: I became more their friend, and was not able to teach or lead which ultimately caused many 1-sided conversations in which nobody learned or respected anybody. This burned me out and I ended up leaving youth ministry all together. I learned, a lot.
Fast forward 10 years, and now I’m in my 3rd year of leading a small group of boys. I’ve learned that in order to really connect with these guys, not only do you just need to be “real,” you need to get the parents on board as well. This can be very, very difficult. In my short time, I’ve compiled a short mental list of ways to “get access” to your students. This may seem that it pertains to some of the larger youth ministries, but I’m sure you can implement some of this among the smaller ones.
By you giving us access to your sons/daughters, we are able to guide them according to their individuality. This is key, but what am I talking about here? Please allow them to attend outings OUTSIDE of just Sundays, so this gets them out of their “Sunday Mentality.” I know this can be difficult should you be separated, but if there’s anything you can agree on and not be selfish about, it should be your children’s growing faith. Are you just nervous to let your child go? Ask if you can join! Without this type of access, we are the blind leading the blind.
Establish a good relationship with their families. I’m talking about brothers and sisters as well as the parents. Learn 1 thing about one of the siblings, and remember it. Like a birthday, big concert or game, and just give a quick “so how did your ballet recital go?” Don’t only ask the question, BE ENGAGED. Especially if they’re younger! That trust will reap a harvest that will last beyond generations.
Don’t only plan outings with your students, plan 1 or 2 outings that will include families, invite everybody! Ok… well at least the parents. If they don’t want to do it, then you need to go back and establish the trust with the student, then ease into it.
Why should I even try this hard?
Seriously. If you are asking this question, and you’re in a position to lead other children into the Kingdom, please do not meet me. I don’t want to know you.
On the real: If you struggle with this, and you think you can just get by, by volunteering on Sundays to check “servitude” off your list, please don’t even bother and let somebody who WANTS to serve, serve. If you’re struggling with this because it is all so overwhelming with the amount of children covering the ages between 6 to 17, RECRUIT! Get a friend, or somebody to help you out and ask them to commit to one or 2 outings. This might be your paying gig, but should you try to do everything on your own, this gig is going to end sooner than you think.
Now for some feedback from you.
Ben as a former Youth Pastor, I completely agree with you in all that you wrote. Working with Youth also means working with families. So many times I was frustrated because the parents expected us to do the work they should be doing with their children. Solve problems, mentor, and get them saved.
I often dealt with parents who had no boundaries and had little to do with their kids growing up and now they were graduating and suddenly decided to try and step in as the parent and the kids weren’t having any of it.
The biggest thing I learned during that time was not trying to be their equal, dressing cool or hip to get them to like you. Be someone who is real, genuine and interested in building a relationship with them that will hopefully be lifelong.
I think the best way to recruit is just to invite people to be part of your life and see how you live out your faith. I call this Lifestyle Evangalism.
I know that I researched lots of stuff to do that was free and cheap because all my kids were inner city and came from families that had no money. So we played games outside and in the basement of the church.
You might try Googling free or cheap activities/events in your city. I do that just so I know what’s going on here in Portland. I can take my youth group, oops I mean my family out for fun, low cost events.
I think that’s key, not being their “equal.”
LOL you have your own youth group, I bet you own a 15 passenger too!
This is a good read. Even though I have no inclinations towards youth, as you do, I could discern your realistic passion and commitment to this ideal.
Cheap outing ideas: Doing yardwork for the elderly or infirm.
Good recruiting tactics: Have them go to the local mall’s food court, dresssed up as John the Baptist, and stand on a table proclaiming “Repentance!” and “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” No? Too much? These kids need to know they have Jesus DNA and are winners!
Love the serving attitude as an outing, great stuff. I was unclear about the recruiting aspect, I meant as in recruiting volunteers for these groups, but I like the costume idea…
I was laughing out loud with the John the Baptist idea! Good one Donald!
Geocaching is cheap and easy. If you’ve got one phone with a GPS, you’ve got an adventure. If you’ve got two phones with GPS, you’ve got a competition.
Oh man, geocaching is so money. I think I’m going to get my group to do that on our next hike/bbq trip in a few weeks.
Good points bro!
A good cheap outing idea is going hiking or to a picnic in a public park, play some bball or football.
Good recruiting tactics? Let the kids be themselves. I often feel that when adults get too caught up in “recruiting” it becomes less personal. When kids see other kids do stuff, they are more inclined to try it themselves. I once bought a bunch of water bottles from Costco and stood in a corner of a busy street in Brooklyn and had the kids give out free water (it was a crazy hot day). But before anyone got a bottle of water, they had to answer a random question. Even if they got it wrong, we would give them the water. It worked out pretty well.
Oops, recruiting for volunteers is what I was implying, not kids 🙂
crap! Now my comment is like that kid in class who farts. Everyone looks at you all weird. 🙁
No I had to change it because you weren’t the only one, I added the “volunteer” after you commented.
Oh, and I’d totally look at you weird, only to try and 1-up you by make it louder and last longer. Wait, what?
I would do it and blame it on the girl sitting next to me. And then say loudly, “Wow, someone’s been hitting the Taco Bell drive-thru pretty hard, huh?”
Great stuff, Ben!
I don’t really have answers to your questions because my children are younger and I don’t work in youth ministry.
However, I remember being a kid and the fights I had with my parents over youth group and activities outside of Sunday mornings. Will definitely keep your insight in mind as my kids get older.
Fights? Care to share what your parents would say during those fights? Were they for or against?
@ThatguyKC – I had many, many fights with my parents about going to stuff other than just Sunday School (but then we did church, 6:00 Bible study, Tuesday visitation, Wednesday church, Thursday youth group, Saturday visitation…) My middle school youth group leaders were the only ones who were just “there”…didn’t try to ram stuff down our overly – rammed down fundamentalist throats. They had us over their house for dinner individually, or one or two of us. They came to our baseball games – not every time, but with 3 of their own kids, I realize now with MY own kids, that it took effort to do that!
If one of the kids in your group has a big game or concert or something, maybe you can all go? There’s a lot of end of year stuff coming up…it may be hard to schedule something, but it also presents a lot of opportunities! Go have lunch with one of them at school (I know you prob don’t even have the time to go with K & M). Just trying to give some idears 🙂
In addition to a picnic/kickball game at a park for the entire group, thought the individual stuff may be an idea. Also, at my girls’ school, they have an internal mail program…maybe find out if your boys’ schools have that and send them a note they’ll get at school. I’m ramblin…
Thank you for your service!!!
Thanks Em, end of year stuff is always good, and the weather here is great. Great ideas!
Oh, and finding the time for lunches w/ K&M is going to be a little more deliberate now that Kim’s working full time 🙂
Ben, did I teach you nothing? Threats and intimidation are the best methods for recruiting!
>>Threats and intimidation are the best methods for recruiting!
Works for me. Ala Yellowbeard:
“Who doesn’t want to be here?”
–Uh,…I don’t, sir…
“Nail that man’s foot to the deck!”
LOL…oh, yeah, gets me every time.
LOL, wow I was 6 when that was out…
Great read Ben!
When I was in youth cheap was always good. A lot of the time I know with the guys it was always sports stuff. Football, softball, and basketball. We also went camping which was also a lot of fun.
Wait, no baseball???
I spoke at our church’s youth group last night…and I was terrified! As a SAHM of 4 small children I don’t feel like I have any means to relate to jr high and high schoolers. I realized that I am so much more comfortable with college age. Haha! But…God’s God and He knows how to relate to them. So I just relied on the promise that He would meet my needs in ensuring that the message worked. Kids know when you’re trying too hard, and they feel manipulated.
Cheap outing ideas: we loved ultimate frisbee and bonfires on the beach when I was in youth group. And don’t underestimate the power of a great all-nighter. Haha!
Honestly, we just wanted to have more opportunities to hang out. I think the greatest thing our youth pastor did was to invite us into his home (he was single & lived with 2 roommates) for us to play board games, watch movies and snack. It was not unusual for 20+ kids to fill his home after youth group each week and on Friday/Saturday nights. Then he usually had a group of boys spend the night. It was all about building relationship. We loved it!!
Recruiting volunteers: Our youth pastor hits up local bible colleges for students that need internship credit. Almost all of our volunteers are from the bible college. The other ones are kids he’s mentored from the youth group who are now giving back to the group.
OH boy do they ever know when you’re trying too hard! You’ve got the right formula though: Rely on His promise that He would meet your needs. That’s awesome stuff.
Pickup baseball game at the park
Lay pinestraw at the church (so they dont have to pay someone)
Sleepover at one of the kids’ houses (I did this last fall with my 10th graders.. a blast)
Get a group to go to their activities (their baseball game, their basketball game, etc)
Great ideas Dustin, pickup any kind of games are always awesome, and I’m thinking I need to get this group thing to going to one of the activities soon…
It looks like several of us former youth ministers connected with this post. I think we all look back and wish we had done some things differently. And finding more volunteers to connect with the kids is one of the areas I wish I could go back and redo. Right now I am reading Parenting Beyond Your Capacity and this is a major point in the book. Thanks for sharing your experience with this Ben.
Oh sweet man, I have that book on my list of books to read this summer, I’m looking forward to it.