Have you ever been in a youth group that was a little spark that died? In one were the lesson didn’t match the audience? In one where you did really weird activities? In one where nobody attended?
My approaching ordination (1 month from today) makes me reflect on the path that got me here. 1 or 2 steps on that path I think are instructive for youth ministers so I figure I should share them here. The first one is my first youth group.
I grew up in a decent parish with no ministry between confirmation (6th grade) and marriage prep. I had basically fallen away from my faith and went to Sunday mass since my parents dragged me. Well, they didn’t drag me but said rent was due if I didn’t attend mass. In grade 11, I realized Jesus was real. I realized that Christianity was important. Then a few months later, we moved.
Coming into a new parish at 16 and being the only one that age on fire, I decided to start a youth group. Everything was new there since the parish mass was still in a school gym in the new suburb. I had no idea want to do so I threw together my best ideas; they weren’t that good.
I asked the pastor and announced it in the bulletin; I didn’t really invite anyone personally. I didn’t get support from the wider parish; I didn’t even get adult volunteers although my mom and another stuck around. My budget was non-existent.
Beyond all this, you’ll love the program I imposed on these poor souls. First, come into the unfinished rectory basement, and sit in a circle. I skipped icebreakers even though I knew so little I failed to know most of the other teens’ names by the end of the night. I remember 2 things on the program. First, we listened to a Christian rock song, I think by the Newsboys, quietly in a circle “to reflect on the words.” Second, I summarized Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The first bored them and the second spooked those still not comatose.
The first meeting somehow attracted 10 teens; the second meeting had my sister who came out of pity and the daughter of the other mom who stuck around. I never tried to call a third meeting.
I had another failed attempt in college: I tried to straddle 2 worlds by getting both the Newman club and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (protestant) to promote a bible-study I planned as theirs. They each agreed then were mad at me and erased it when they found out I played both sides of the fence.
There are a few lessons to learn. Invite teens personally and build a fellowship with icebreakers. You need to reach teens where they’re at. Don’t do artificial stuff (like listening to the Newsboys while quietly sitting in a circle then discussing it like lectio divina). And most importantly, if you at first don’t succeed, you still can succeed later as I seem to have done something good afterwards. (For me, one of the biggest factors for later success was starting with a pre-built, in my case Conquest, rather than lone-ranger style.)