Culture | Simply Insider
Leneita Fix

Leneita has been involved in youth or family ministry for over 24 years serving in rural, suburban and urban settings, camps, small and large churches and non-profits. She has authored or co-authored several youth ministry books, including Everybody’s Urban Understanding the Survival Mode of the Next Generation among others. Leneita is the ministry and training coordinator for BowDown Church, co-founded a coaching and training organization called Frontline Urban Resources (everybodysurban.org) and lives with her amazing husband John and four children in Florida.


I once remember a friend of mine asking, “If you set up your youth group that way, what will make students have a desire to invite their friends?”  He was speaking of the fact that the focus on our ministry was to be “relationally driven.”  Sure we all talk about “discipleship” and “relationships,” however,  I started to see I did just that.  I talked about them, but I didn’t really have them. I played games for the sake of fun.  I sang worship songs because that’s  “what you do.”  The trouble was I’m not musical, and I didn’t have any students or volunteers who were either. I followed all the unwritten rules of the youth group formula.  They weren’t working for me or my students.

I stepped back and looked at Christ’s model.  He preached to the crowds, touched and healed a few, but the majority of His time was spent pouring into 12 guys, with 3 getting special attention.  If Jesus was focused on eating, sleeping and teaching mainly 12 with a focus on 3,  then that was the model I would follow.

Here’s what I did:

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1.  Listened

I started with brainstorming with my students about what they were looking for in “youth group.”  Some of them liked to sing, others hated it.  What they wanted was a place to seek truth, with authentic people who would become a second family to them.

2.  Restructured

Before I programmed ANYTHING I asked,  “How will this build relationships?”  So just to move to a small group model for the sake of having them wasn’t going to work. Instead of getting through a series of questions or pushing through a curriculum, the goal was to include every student in every conversation.  What were the students able to take away with them? Could they apply at least one point the moment they walked out the door? Our opening time became much shorter.  If we did play a game, or have an object lesson, it was all about building relationships with each other or for the purpose of making a point that would be discussed in small groups.

3.  Training

Many volunteers would ask me, “What do I have in common with this age?”  So I started training my team in first steps to conversations,  how to engage, how to not talk “at students” but with them, and how to deal with disruptions. These trainings are ongoing. I gave clear expectations of where we were headed, and what they needed to do to keep up with students. There were checklists for calling, texting and spending time with students not just during “youth group.”

4. Included

One of the key elements was including volunteers and teens in our new model.  We decided that an opening time of welcoming was needed. We allowed teens (with guidance) to plan and execute this time. In a practical sense this means that this time changes year to year as we have different students and adults in the mix.  There have been dramas, worship, and video clips in that time to bring the message. The students are allowed to make this time theirs.

So I lied we do play games, but not every week. Students always shock me when they do use the word “fun” to describe our time together.  I guess it’s because we laugh, and talk and go deep, but it’s not usually silly programming.  Our method draws out the introverts and lets everyone engage.  Yes, we even eat pizza together, take trips, and have outreach events however, all of this is done with that simple question, “If we do this , how will it build relationships?” AND THEY DO INVITE THEIR FRIENDS,,,

What about you?  What are YOU doing to build relationships with your students?



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  • Godlove says:

    I was attracted by the title
    But as I read slowly down, it kept getting better and better.
    Until I found myself on the comment section
    So I decided why not say something nice
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Angela says:

    We’re (husband and I) going into our 4th year as youth ministry leaders in a church we’ve belonged to for 16 yrs. Our youth group meets on Sunday’s during morning worship times.

    After about a year of “doing it as it’s always been done”,(welcome, worship, teach, dismiss) I felt God asking us to think outside the box. The direct question was – what would you do if you didn’t meet on Sunday mornings? We’ve been struggling to answer this question and implement the answer without adding another night/time for meeting. We’ve gone to a shorter group teaching time and breaking into grade-based discussion groups to go deeper and try to connect with our 25+ students. We’re slowly building a team and trying to get them to focus on relationship and teaching, not just teaching. But we still feel boxed in to a Sunday service model.

    My question – were you able to implement this ministry environment from the beginning, or how did you transition from what was previously being done, to this more relational model, which we strongly believe in as well.

    • Leneita Fix Leneita Fix says:


      I have done it both ways- from the beginning in one ministry and shifting in another. The hardest part in the “shift” is changing the “culture” of your team. The students are usually on board as long as you explain it in the process- the why and the what it’s going to look like. It’s more of a paradigm shift for adults. We sat and trained our current team- and then as we added people in they didn’t know there was any difference. I have also broken our groups in different ways- ages, grades or genders depending on how much of a team we have. If you want more ideas- please don’t hesitate to email me! (leneitafix@gmail.com)

  • Katie says:

    I love everything about this. I do play games but I have found at my current church in my current situation that we need that ice breaking time. We have about 15 kids and we need someone to fall over a table or frog leap over someone else before we really get to laughing and engaging one another. We tried for awhile to start with the “lesson” but gathering time was sooooo awkward. Now when someone walks in the door, we say “hurry, we are about to start another round and we need you!”

    • Leneita Fix Leneita Fix says:

      Katie! I love that so much! I think that is the key isn’t it? The willingness to be who you are with the kids you have. That’s what I love about simply asking, “How will this build relationship?” You are allowed to change the programming as the kids change through the years and you are allowed to be you! We went through a puzzle phase a couple of years ago. We had a table set up in the corner and when students arrived anyone who wanted to could sit and work on the puzzle, before we “started.” That lasted about 7 months and then they got bored with it- and it went away…

  • Jacob says:

    You say you guys “go deep.” I try to take questions deeper, but they seem to always come back to questions with one word, “Sunday School answers.” What advice would you give me on asking better, open ended questions?

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