Simply Insider
Amber Cassady

Content Marketer for Simply Youth Ministry and Group Mission Trips. College girls small group leader. Coffee lover. Fan of hiking and skiing as much as she can!

Hey Simply Inisders!

We’ve got a new article from the seasoned youth minister, Katie Sutton, on controlling the chaos in your youth ministry. Remember, you have some authority in your students’ lives!

katie-sutton By KATIE SUTTON

Are there days when you feel like you could walk out of the room and none of your students would even notice?

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Or maybe you have that one kid in your group who is constantly sucking all of the attention to himself?

This isn’t school. They don’t have to be at church. No one is forcing them.  Or, maybe they are being forced and that makes their behavior in your group even worse. You could threaten to strangle them (I MAY have recently said that to a student), or you can make a few small changes that bring the chaos under control. After all, the students who create the most chaos are usually the ones that need Jesus the most.

What can we do to ensure that they come back without sacrificing the students who want to learn without distractions?

1) Ergonomics matter. Get rid of all extra chairs that sit in the corner of the room. It’s too tempting for teenagers to climb the stacks and claim them as their thrones. Keep the chair count in the room very close to the amount of your regular attendance. It helps keep students from isolating themselves from the group in the one uninhabited part of the room. And as for the room, make choices like Goldilocks: not too big and not too small. There has to be room enough to add a couple of chairs, but not so much room that you have the sense that you’re sitting in a newly discovered cavern! Many behavior issues can be solved simply by adjusting the size of your room, cleaning up, and rearranging the chairs so that no one can isolate themselves from the group.

2) Keep them guessing. It’s easy to be a distraction when you know what’s going to happen next. Avoid routine. If that student who asks a hundred irrelevant questions knows that after the scripture reading you will be giving him that opportunity each week, he will come prepared! But what if next week you give everyone a card and have them write down a response to every question you ask, then mix up the cards and have other students read them. Gotcha! Set up your room in different configurations each week—rows, u-shaped, circles—it’s hard to create chaos when you don’t know what is going to happen next.

3) Engage them creatively. Think about those students that you have the most difficult time with in your group. What are their interests? What do they value? What has caused them to pause or respond in the past? Occasionally, choose topics and design activities that play to their personal preferences. Keep the room kinetic. Too much lecture will drive anyone to distraction! Discussion, activities, art projects, games—use anything that will keep the room focused and moving during your time together. Plan your schedule from start to finish so there’s no time for goofing around.

And, by the way, it IS okay to call out a student on their behavior. We discipline those we love. Students respect that and, I think, expect it. Church shouldn’t be the one place they can get away with disruptive behaviors. They know how to act in public. Raise your expectation and they will rise to it. Give them opportunities to channel their opinions and expressions into your group time together and even the kid you threatened to strangle will engage with you!

How do you use your authority to control the chaos? Post what works for you.

Thanks for loving students,



*You can get Katie’s perspective, as well as other women in youth ministry, every Thursday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*

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  • Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I needed this today after a very disruptive and disrespectful encounter at youth group last night. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Wendy says:

    I would like to add that engaging the disrupting youth in conversation BEFORE the program (great if you have a dinner before youth group) is a great way to get them on your side, and will perhaps reduce the attention-seeking behavior DURING the program, if they’ve already had your attention before the program.

  • Paul Spittka says:

    Thanks Katie for the awesome reminders and fresh ideas!! One thing we have discovered is that some students actually LIKE to be “called out” in a crowd because it brings attention to them. I let my Youth Staff correct [or threaten to strangle] disruptive students and it has really helped to stop teens from being disruptive during worship and our lesson time.

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