This may surprise you, but homeless teenagers are flocking to your youth group on a regular basis. And most of them live in comfort, under a roof provided for them by loving families. But make no mistake, they are homeless; at least that’s how they often feel.
Part of the adolescent journey is the quest to belong, to fit in, to feel comfortable in one’s own skin…to, in essence, feel “at home” with themselves. But most don’t. Most are in a constant state of social and emotional homelessness. And each week, they flock to your youth group. Here are a few ideas to consider as you minister to the homeless students in your ministry:
A lot has been said about cliques in a youth group, and it’s mostly been negative. But the reality is that people like to hang out with whom they have things in common. Skaters hang out with skaters. Gamers hang out with gamers. Athletes hang out with athletes. Hipsters hang out with hipsters. And so on. Of course when these “cliques” become competitive and/or exclusive it becomes a negative force, but affinity based groups and friendships aren’t bad by definition. In truth, they help students find a place to fit in…they help teenagers feel “at home”.
Question: How can you turn the natural tendency for you students to exist in tribes into a positive instead of a negative?
Level The Playing Field
Leverage Tribes, but keep the playing field level! In other words, try not to build your ministry mostly around one tribe or another. A youth group that sends the message that one type of student is favored, while the other types are “tolerated”, doesn’t help end homelessness. Strive to build a youth ministry that provides equal opportunities to all; and one that values uniqueness and diversity.
Question: Does your ministry favor a certain “tribe” of teenagers? How can you level the playing field?
Celebrate Questions, Doubts and Crisis of Faith.
Did I say celebrate these things? Yes, Yes I did! It may be time for your youth group philosophy to do a 180-degree shift on this one. Many youth workers think their job is to keep their students from questioning, doubting and struggling with their faith. And while well intentioned, this approach only serves to keep teenagers feeling homeless at church. When they don’t feel like they can ask honest questions, admit to doubts or openly share about their struggles, your youth ministry will only serve as a place they attend, not a place they feel at home.
Question: Is your youth group a place students can be honest, or do they feel the need to “perform” spiritually in order to be accepted?
Together, we can end teenage “homelessness”!
Kurt / @kurtjohnston