My daughters are 15 months apart. Because of this they actually spent quite a bit of time together. They shared friends. They were in girls’ club together — the youngest joining early and the oldest sticking around. One joined colour guard in order to be in marching band with her clarinet playing sister. They went to university together. They shared a dorm suite with each other. The latter two times of togetherness seemed like good ideas at the time, until they weren’t.
As parents, we realized a bit too late that one of the things we underestimated was how important it was for each of them to have their own spheres of growth and influence in order to help shape their individual senses of self. They did have their own friend groups as well, but there was a lot of overlap. We realized later that it would have been helpful for us to press them a little harder to create more of their own separate spheres. But here is the thing, it was efficient and convenient to take them to the same activities, clubs, and birthday parties. It actually helped to create a very tight knit community for our family. AND, there was little push back from the girls themselves. I do wonder, however, what more intentional cross-pollination with people beyond this circle may have done to help launch them a bit more successfully that first shared year of university. I think that it would have made them a bit more resilient as they learned how to create new friendships and a sense of community apart from our family and their tight sisterhood while still close enough to access it.
We can sometimes create a similar situation in our youth ministries. As leaders we work hard to create a strong community with our youth by making everything we do either an “all in” or by rarely engaging with other Christian young people in our area. Sure, they may interact at the Christian High School, if they attend one, but I have found that often students from the local CHS will together chose one youth group to attend so that there is very little interaction beyond that particular herd from dawn to dusk. As with our daughters, it IS efficient and convenient, this arrangement DOES help to create a very tight knit community for students’ families, AND there will be little push back from the students themselves...but does it help our students gain the resiliency they need in order to imagine themselves making new friendships, engaging with Christians from other backgrounds, or finding a new faith community when jobs take them far from the place of their birth?
There is often not much motivation for Cross Pollinating with other youth groups. I am aware of large youth ministries that are fairly self contained. They do their own retreats, their own in house training, their own service/mission trips and they do them very well. They have plenty of students to count on critical mass for almost every event they plan. On a practical level these groups do not perceive the need to connect with other groups. Connecting can feel like a real imposition to the successful programming already taking place.
I am also aware of smaller youth ministries who are self contained as well. They do not have all of the bells and whistles, but their students like the intimacy and easy portability of their cozy group. Connecting with others can feel threatening to the much-loved warmth of the group. Connecting with other youth groups also brings with it the possibility that students might feel discontented with the group in their home church. Might cross pollination invite consumerism?
Which leads me to name the Fear Factor: Sometimes we resist any cross pollination out of fear — "Fear of losing our youth to another youth group." "Fear of losing our children to another denomination." "Fear of our children leaving the protective bubble we have worked hard to create." The problem, of course, is that the bubble works against resilience and spiritual confidence. Yet we know what casts out all fear. Might it be loving to walk alongside our youth as they look beyond their communities for other places that God is working?
5 reasons why it is important to allow for Cross Pollination between youth groups:
- It gives students the opportunity to see the Spirit alive and active in other church communities and an appreciation for the diversity of the Christ’s Church.
- It gives students and leaders fresh ideas for Youth Ministry and possibly contacts for ministry support. We know this work can be lonely at times.
- It gives students the opportunity to make friends and contacts with Christians beyond their communities of origin and builds into students’ skills and resiliency for finding Christian community beyond high school.
- It gives students a chance to dialogue with and ask questions about how other Christians navigate the joys and challenges of the life of faith.
- It helps groups share the wealth of everything from great programming to various facilities and ministry best practices by experiencing them in community.
5 ways to promote Cross Pollination.
Cross pollination in plants requires pollinators who are willing and able to travel from plant to plant. It needs leaders who are willing to initiate contact or invite others in.
- Some classes are investing in classis wide Fall Retreats. Classis Huron has done a great job of using this yearly event which hosts some 275 students as both a kick off and opportunity to gather young people together to meet other people of faith.
- SERVE trips through Youth Unlimited can be hyper-cross pollination as students have opportunities to interact with each other and the host church while supporting local ministry.
- Leadership Training for youth has been a great tool for connecting youth in Southern Ontario and in Los Angeles. Students meet together to explore God’s call on their lives. Adult leaders use these opportunities to become more effective youth mentors.
- Invite a neighbouring youth group for a gym night or a Service Saturday to bless the surrounding community.
- Plan a joint youth impact event or invite neighbouring churches to host Youth Alpha.
What would cross-pollinating with other youth groups look like in your context?