Youth Group: Serious Study or Fun and Games?

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Another youth group season has begun. We've had a Fall retreat to kick off the year, and now are two months into the year. This year we have a new youth pastor on board and we are excited as leaders to inspire our youth to great things. Our theme this year is from 2 Tim. 1:7, "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline." So, how is it going so far?? It could be better; which is a polite way of saying that we expected things to go better than they are. We are struggling with how to make youth group a place for the youth to grow spiritually, and for it to be a time for fun and socializing. For some youth, they only want Wednesday night to be a time to hang out and have fun, catching up with friends they haven't seen since the past week.
  
As leaders, we often see that our youth have some head knowledge about God and the Bible and can often give the right answers. But as leaders, we want them to have more than just knowledge, we want them to experience Jesus not just know about Him. So we started this year hitting the Bible Studies hard but the big complaint is that there was not enough fun time and time to hang out. Don’t get me wrong, these are great youth that are faithful in coming, and are well grounded in their knowledge. But that passion and zeal to live out their lives for Christ are just not there yet in most of them. I say “yet” because I know that for our Youth pastor and our volunteer youth leaders, that is our task this year, along with the Holy Spirit, to grow that passion in our youth.

Maybe some of you can share stories of success that you have had in your youth groups. I know every group is different and the dynamics are never the same, but maybe hearing some great stories can inspire us all. Also below are two links. The first one is for youth workers in Ontario to talk about this. The second is for the All Ontario Youth Convention, whose theme this year is “Experience”, we want the youth to experience Jesus.

www.facebook.com/groups/ontariocrcyouthworkers/

www.allontario.com/

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Last year we changed things up because there wasn't enought time in the two hours to do justice to both the serious side and the fun/social side.  We meet weekly, with middle school meeting on Wednesday evening and high school meeting on Sunday evening.  They both follow the same basic format.

On the 1st and 3rd weekly meetings of the month, we dedicate this meeting to our study on WDJD - What DID Jesus Do?  We have a meal together, have our "Yeah God" sharing, worship time (usually 3 songs),  then on to the lesson overview as a large group, small group time as a more intimate discussion of the topic, and close in prayer and blessing.

The 2nd weekly meeting is our game night.  We start off with the meal, "Yeah God" time, a shorter worship time, play at least an hours worth of games, and close in prayer and blessing.

The 4th weekly meeting is our service night.  We will eat, have a "Yeah God" time, might have a worship time depending on what the activity is, and then we leave the church to do some type of service in the community.  Some things we've done this year is: rake leaves, hand out water on a trail, made and handed out "tie" blankets, and prepared and participated in a meal for one of our local ministries. 

We've kept this format for this year because we noticed that doing service nights helped keep the students attention during our lesson nights.  And having just a night for games gave everyone a chance for fun and catching up while also providing a non-threatening event to bring friends to.

 

Over three years ago we changed the way we did youth ministry. Prior to this change our Wednesday evenings were primarily focused on games and hanging out. Of course we threw a message in there, but it was always THROWN in there. After one of our meetings one my leaders came up to me and said, "That message was OK, but it was really light on scripture." The Holy Spirit convicted me in a large way. I went home that night determined to rethink how we do ministry. 

Through a lot of prayer and conversations with our leaders we decided that games could still be a part, but we had to give God's Word that main focus. We completely changed the way we did ministry. Games were now the "side dish" and worship and God's Word were the main dish. It was cool to watch how this tranformation took place. It took time for the youth to come to grips with it (we all know youth have the hardest time with change :-) but three years later our ministry has been transformed. We literally have a group of teenagers that are excited about digging deeply into God's Word. 

Some didn't want to see the switch because they were afraid that we would alienate and "unchurched" youth from coming. We've actually experienced the opposite! We've had a large group of "unchurched" youth attending and have had various baptisms and professions of faith made over the last couple years. When I ask why they come, they always tell me they come because they are having questions answered. Their wrestling with some of the big questions in life and want to have an opportunity to discuss them. God's Word is truly transfomational!

All of that said, you guys are definitely heading in the right direction. Keep up the good work and run the race. If your leadership team is excited about God's Word and experiencing Jesus Christ, your teenagers will catch it too. 

Here's an article I wrote about this transition period from a different angle. 

http://jasonsblog.postach.io/the-best-thing-that-happened-to-our-youth-ministry#disqus_thread 

Jason,

God recently put me as the youth leader at my church. Before I read your comment and article my plan was to focus on God's Word. Your comment and article were confirmation to me to focus completely on God's Word. At first I was indecisive on completely focusing the youth ministry on God's Word because I was not sure of the response that I was going to get. Last friday was my first service with the youth and the sermon was great. Now I know for sure that I'm heading the right direction. To God be the glory. Thank you, keep up the good work.

I'm not sure you can have one with out the other. I think we are drenched in a poor theology of play. ie: Play second to partaking in the word. I tend not to think about one over another. Scripture calls us to be faithful in all things... In prayer, partaking in the word, partnering in his work and in play..p. Many yp's spend considerable time trying to do theological connect the dots to tie the game and the study together. Why? Play is Gods gift to us... It engages community (if it engages all) it engages justice (if the boundaries are graciously adhered to) it engages non-professional unstructured re-creation (something our students desperately lack) it engages identity (who am I at  unstructured play with no college scouts watching?) One of the reason it will never be far from our program is because it offers us as adults an incredible medium to build attachments with youth. To play with and even just to observe youth at play is a significant opportunity for us as leaders to sit on the steps of their subculture. With open eyes and open ears as we engage play we get a powerful glimpse into how they are answering the question who am I? Where do belong? And what is my purpose? We do have a duty to schedule these things well. Some nights we play and we play hard... Other nights we partake in scripture and we partake hard.