By: Kyle Goings
Every youth ministry is different – it could be big or small – it could be filled with small groups for discussion or the group stays together the whole time. But no matter how your youth ministry works we are sure everyone would want to deepen their sense of community within the group. These tips are for either the main youth worker or to be passed on to your small group leaders.
One, create memories – then talk about them often
Remember when you get together with extended family for Thanksgiving and you hear the same stories every time? Some good, some embarrassing, but every year you hear the same thing. Why? It’s because you all had a shared experience and talking about that shared experience deepens your connection to one another. The fastest way to bond a group together is to experience something together. The event doesn’t have to be big, just rememberable, and preferable enjoyable. This is why camps, mission trips, or even a fun outing for ice cream after youth group can help create a sense of community so easily. And then once you have that shared memory bring it up later to cement that memory! Remember the time…
Two, celebrate accomplishments
Make things a big deal… even if the student doesn’t. Text them after a big football game, ask them how their tryouts went for that play they talked about last week. Students want to be known – that is who they know they are loved. Like the saying goes “to be known is to be loved.” Having a leader remember important moments in a student’s life, and bringing them up, produces a huge amount of currency when it comes to trust. And trust is the foundation of any community.
Three, surprise them with the little things
If you can remember a small detail about their story they shared last week, and bring it up this week – it’s a pleasant surprise. You know when you accomplished it when the student says something like, “You remember that?” It feels good when you know people were listening to you. If a guest joins you and you get their name – then welcome them with their name the next week! If you have trouble with this keep a secret file on your phone or a notebook, but if you go the extra mile it will help build a strong community. A big thing is when you take prayer requests one week, ask for an update the next week!
Four, eliminate the complaining
The two biggest community killers are complaining and conflict. The dangers of complaining are that at first sight, it doesn’t seem to negatively affect but it is a silent killer. First, when you complain you are basically saying that God is not big or strong enough to handle your current problem. Second, when you complain you could be hurting someone else’s joy. Let’s say we play a game in youth group and one person loves it and thinks it’s so fun. But another person yells out “This is so stupid, I’m bored.” What that actually does is encourages that first person not to speak up in the future. Third, complaining focuses your group on the negative and “what’s missing” rather than learn to be satisfied and happy in what you already have. The most common complaint is in small groups – a few people are missing that night and one of your students say “Man, no one is here tonight, where is everyone?” For those students WHO DID show up, how do you think they feel? Not really important part of the community do they. So be upfront and direct each night or at the very least at the beginning of the school year to set the tone. No complaining. Then if someone does complain remind them of the expectations and handle their complaint privately.
Five, don’t be afraid of to handle conflict
This won’t be easy because anything can become a conflict, even a misunderstanding. Nothing destroys community like a conflict. The best way to handle this is to take the people involved (even that night) and talk to them away from the group. Don’t promise anything like “I’ll handle it” but rather just listen. Then once they are done talked ask, “What do you think should happen now?” If the conflict is between two people try to get them together to talk it out first (have you there as an option but it’s ideal they handle it on their own). Give them a deadline like “Can you talk to them before youth group next week?” Then make sure you follow up with them. If all the responsibility falls on you, the leader, to “handle” the conflict than it doesn’t train them to resolve future conflict without you. And sometimes sharing the expectation that students should try to handle conflict face to face and on their own before you get involved up front actually gives the students courage to do it later on. Remember you are training students who normally don’t handle conflict healthy to do it healthy so a lot of grace is needed.
When a student feels known, welcomed, and part of a community they are more likely to make the youth ministry and more importantly Jesus a higher priority.