Amid all the busyness, the Christmas season inspires people to intentionally draw near to God and to one another.
Youth ministries can learn a lot from that about relationship-building throughout the year.
Our youth program runs a solid midweek combo of large and small groups, with some big outreach events tossed in. So the programming calendar is packed, often resembling the intensity of the Christmas season. I like what we’re doing, but—as with any program—it has blind spots.
As most Christians try to do during December, we began looking for ways to claim some “God with us” relationship-building time amid our ministry’s well-intentioned year-round fast pace. While noticing how tough it is to get older teenagers to take ownership, I had a realization: Most of them “get Jesus” and have a deep spiritual core, but obtaining commitments from them seems impossible. When kids explain how busy they are, all I want to say is: “Everyone’s busy! Church matters. Get your priorities right!”
Perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts. At times it’s easier to just dismiss teenagers instead of disciple them!
Their neutral attitude often boils down to a stage-of-life confidence problem. While taking the toughest classes yet, teenagers are on the cusp of big decisions about their future. College and career pressures keep mounting, yet their current coursework often makes them feel stupid.
It doesn’t help to say: “Why don’t we see you around church as much?” or “We need you to step up—all the younger kids look up to you.”
This year our youth ministry is trying something we call Legacy. During the last week of every month, we intentionally slow down and invest into older kids with a fun, yet meaningful, evening. Every month is different, but the common thread is that teenagers can linger with one another relationally while discussing Jesus-centered themes. In the process, we’re helping them find identity in relationships with Jesus and their community of peers.
On Legacy nights, after our younger kids leave large-group time and head to small groups, we surprise juniors and seniors with activities geared specifically toward them. Here are some examples of what we’ve done so far:
- We hold rapid-fire conversations, similar to speed dating. Every 60 seconds, teenagers receive a new question and have to find a new discussion partner. (Maybe you can incorporate this into your small-group or large-group time.)
- We distribute cookie dough so kids can make monster cookies. They deliver them, along with milk, to the underclassmen and collect prayer requests from them. After upperclassmen eat their own cookies, they pray for their younger peers. (Maybe you can try this during the last meeting before Christmas break.)
- We bring out a bunch of puzzles, turn on some music, and serve upperclassmen a cart-full of desserts. (Maybe you can try this when programming resumes in January.)
So far, these events have been very meaningful. We’re running Legacy as a pilot program that we can eventually integrate into younger grades. The next event will bridge the grade gap as seniors invest into freshmen and juniors invest into sophomores.
By the way, an interesting phenomenon is occurring: The more we focus on upperclassmen without strings attached, the more they’re asking for ways to serve.
Christmas is about Jesus coming near, despite how far away our busyness tries to push him. Likewise, ministry is about inviting teenagers to linger with Jesus and one another, despite the temptation to opt for something mechanical or traditional.
How much lingering occurs in your ministry? What ideas are working for you?