Worship, outreach, learning, and fellowship are core aspects of any healthy youth ministry; exclude any one of these and a youth ministry is found wanting. Though a youth ministry needs these four practices, it doesn’t mean that all four need to be done at every meeting.
Each gathering should be purposeful in its planning and implementation. Even a plan to “just hang out,” is still a plan. Here is a regular youth group meeting and how I usually plan it with all four core aspects. I have only worked in churches with small youth groups [5-25 youth] so this comes from small church youth ministry.
Youth Group Meeting
We begin with a meal.
I like to have people in the congregation bring meals for the young people, but I do let parents do it when non-parents aren’t signed up. There are so many things I like about doing a meal between adults and youth.
First, this is a good way to connect youth and adults in the congregation. As a part of the deal, I encourage adults to sit and eat with the young people in order to get to know them. These connections have formed deep connections between adult and youth because of the neutral ground of the dinner table. It has also allowed old Sunday School teachers to re-connect to youth now that they are older.
Second, anyone in the congregation can do this. For those with little income, the youth ministry budget covers the cost of spaghetti fixings. It is even better when the adults cook the meal at the church and have the youth involved. The youth learn how to make food and get to know the adult.
Third, people in the congregation can see first hand what is going on in the youth group without having to lead activities like games or Bible studies. I have been told many times that it is intimidating for many to do so. (There are exceptions to this).
Fourth, it usually surprises the adults how many “non-churched” kids are a part of the youth group. Ministry happens outside of the Sunday worship service; just because there are not many youth in worship doesn’t mean we are not reaching out to them. We of course are always pointing kids to Sunday worship as the central aspect of our faith practice, but it takes time.
We play games.
Many people think that games are the focal point of the youth group. For some youth, games are the reasons they come. Games are very important, but not because they provide entertainment. We who live in California are not able to compete in the entertainment aspect of youth ministry living so close to the entertainment capital of the world and its theme parks, movie theaters, bowling alleys, skiing, surfing, etc. There are whole industries whose job it is to entertain youth; we can only do so much with entertainment. We play games for fun, but also for fellowship.
Games, with proper leadership, teach youth how to be gracious winners and losers. They teach youth how to play fair. They teach them that there is such a thing as being competitive without being cutthroat. Games bond groups together when the above happens and allows them to enter into each other’s lives through play. If they can do this together well, then opening up for prayer needs becomes easier.
We pray (this is part of worship).
Prayer is an important part of youth ministry. It is vital that leaders model prayer; youth will often pick up on the order in which the leader prays and copy that order. If you always first thank God, then ask for something, the kids will do the same.
I like to have long spaces of silence during prayer. It is uncomfortable at first, but the youth learn to listen after this is practiced over and over again. The most silent prayer time I ever built a youth group up to was 20 minutes. Sure, some kids fell asleep. But even they thought that the holy rest they received was beneficial. I believe a part of youth ministry is helping kids to do less rather than more. It is to help them slow down in our fast past world where the biggest sin they commit is constant activity without mindfulness of God; I try to bring back mindfulness.
I usually try to have some kind of Bible Study during youth group; it can be didactic or involve having the youth teach each other. There are three major exceptions to this. One, I usually have a once a month game night. Two, we also have youth group meetings where we spent the whole “study” time in prayer and petitioning for others. Lastly, there are some weekly youth group meetings where we make food for the homeless shelters in our area. (We set this up in advance with them).
How do you plan your youth group?