"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Building Friendliness and Community

Today's Youth: In Search Of Friendly Youth Groups

Steve Miller

Today's Students: In Search of a Friendly Youth Group

Fostering community and friendliness in your group is no peripheral issue - it's central to our task of reaching students. No matter how well we speak, train adult leaders, and plan excellent programs, if we don't motivate and move our students to develop an atmosphere of acceptance, we'll never retain most students. And until we can produce friendly students in our groups, we can practically forget reaching the lost.

A recent poll gave us empirical evidence to back these bold statements. A group of 10,000 students, ages 12 to 19, were recently asked to rate the importance of 10 factors that influence their commitment to church. They were asked, "If you were choosing a church, how important would the following things be?" Following is the percentage of kids who rated each of these items as "very important."

#1 - A welcoming atmosphere where you can be yourself - 73%

#2 - Quality relationships with teenagers - 70%

#3 - A senior pastor who understands and loves teenagers - 59%

#4 - Interesting preaching that tackles key questions - 53%

#5 - Spiritual growth experiences that actively involve you - 51%

#6 - Fun activities - 51%

#7 - Engaging music and worship - 50%

#8 - Quality relationships with adults - 36%

#9 - Multiple opportunities to lead, teach, and serve - 35%

#10 - A fast-paced, high-tech, entertaining ministry approach - 21%

This survey demonstrates the incredible importance that teens put on feeling accepted by their peers and being able to connect with them in quality relationships. Contrast the top two items on relationships with the rather dismal vote for "a fast-paced, high-tech, entertaining ministry approach." Yet, what percentage of time does the average youth minister devote to developing the latter as opposed to the former?

When we turn to the Scriptures, we see that God had already told us of the importance of these issues 2000 years ago:

On Acceptance:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:1,2)

On Loving the Unlovely:

"If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Matthew 5:46,47)

On Loving Your Neighbor:

The Second Great Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:39)

On Loving Your Brethren:

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers." (I John 3:14)

On Serving the Least of These

"And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:42)

On the Importance of Unity

"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:23)

As youth workers, we must devote time in prayer to ask God to build acceptance and friendliness into our groups. We must devote time to research and brainstorm ways to create and maintain these characteristics in our groups.

Addressing this issue will probably involve training students in friendliness and acceptance skills. I don't mean simply addressing these issues periodically in our teaching times. Youth tend to be dysfunctional in these areas. Many have little motivation and even less skill in the fine art of being nice to fellow students. How many of your students possess and practice such basic skills as these:

  • Make eye contact with peers, say "Hi!" in a friendly manner and ask how they are doing.
  • Enter the youth meeting looking for students who are sitting alone to sit with them.
  • Memorize great discussion starters to use when meeting a new person.
  • Invite new or marginal students to activities during the week.)

Most students are focused solely and completely inward when they enter the youth room. They arrive thinking, "Okay, now don't blow it. Don't do anything to look stupid. Now, who can I find that I know so that I can sit with him and feel safe?"

Instead, we must find ways to transform youth so that they enter the youth meeting with this radical mindset: "What students can I find who are not fitting in so that I can make them feel accepted and help them connect with other students?" If we want to keep the students that we bring in, we must address, and re-address, and re-address this issue.

In one youth group I trained my student leaders in friendliness skills, such as questions to ask newcomers in order to find things in common and introduce them to others with common interests. But I found that students forgot all about this as they entered the youth room and saw their friends. So I told the leadership team that I would give them a cue during the youth meeting to remind them to look for youth who are not connecting, strike up conversations and ask them to sit with you. I would simply announce or put on the overhead: "Student Leadership: Remember Project Friend." This meant nothing to the new or fringe students, but reminded the leadership students of an incredibly important ministry opportunity that they could take advantage of immediately.

In over 25 years of youth ministry, I've seen over and over what happens when friendliness/acceptance principles are either applied or neglected. During my own high school years, I saw a friend turn his back on the Church and Christianity because of students refusing to sit with him on a bus on a youth group trip. He wasn't cool and nobody was willing to risk his status by being associated with him. As far as I know, 26 years later, he's yet to return. On the other hand, I've experienced the thrill of seeing teens find love and acceptance in a group for the first time and to later open their hearts to God. Many such experiences convince me that these are not marginal issues. They are life and death.

In this section, we will put up articles of how other youth workers have fostered friendliness, unity and acceptance in their groups. If you have ideas that have worked for you, please let us know so that we can share your ideas with others!

Other Resources

Wanting to challenge your youth about the importance of these issues? Our site contains several lessons related to building friendliness and acceptance in your youth group. Download them free of charge by signing in for a free month subscription to "i-reachout" by going to the top of your screen, clicking "Your Account," and signing in. The three week series, Breaking the Grip of Prejudice, will help your students to stop looking down on others. The nine week series, Friendships: How to Make Them and Keep Them, contains a lot of good teaching to help your students with their relationships. Lessons 3 and 4 would especially be helpful. Check out Session 2 of the series Making a Mark That's Hard to Erase. It hits at these issues from the perspective of impacting others for Christ and has some hints called "Seven Habits of Highly Friendly People." Lessons 6 and 7 of the Amazing Grace series addresses these issues from the perspective of treating others with the same grace that we've received from God.

The Survey

This survey was of 10,000 students, 12 to 19 years of age, representing every area of the country and many denominational backgrounds. These kids were involved Group's work camps.

Author

Steve Miller has worked with youth for over 25 years has written two books: The Contemporary Christian Music Debate and the Leader's Guide to Jesus No Equal. He currently writes global resources for Reach Out Youth Solutions and serves as their webmaster. He wrote Reach Out's online "Legacy Lessons" and maintains their online Illustration Database. Copyright April, 2001 by Steve Miller.

Credits

The survey was published in Group Magazine, 05/06/01, reprinted by permission, Group magazine, copyright 2001, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO  80539. Check out their site at www.youthministry.com . Their magazine, "Group," is designed to "empower youth leaders for real-life ministry" and is published six times per year. Call them at 1-800-447-1070.