Monday, August 25, 2008


    Ever joined a group for the first time only to discover a feeling of alienation because you didn't understand the group's in-jokes, you didn't know how to participate in their long-established rituals and you had no reference for their stories of past shared experiences of which you had no part? One of the biggest mistakes a youth leader can make at this time of the year is to assume that you're just working with the same ol' youth group -- "It's just that a few youth have left and a few new ones have joined the group." Not so! Not so! It's paramount that we see each fall as a new start, a new group, a new community. With some youth graduating on to college and work, and younger youth joining the activities for the first time, the chemistry of the group shifts and it's like starting all over again. Ignoring this reality can result in the long-time members developing a sense of privilege and new members receiving the message very quickly they that will have to earn their place in the already established group.

    Given all of this then, building Christian community is one of the most important things you can do when kicking-off a new youth group year together. In fact, I don't think it is out-of-bounds to suggest that the first several months of the fall should focus almost entirely on building Christian community. So how do you do that? Here are a few suggestions, all focused on the theme of being "together":

    Transition Together- Take time to a have a mini-funeral where you literally say goodbye to last year's youth group. Perhaps place some tokens of the previous year (photos of events, names of graduated members, souvenirs from the mission trip) in a box and actually bury it in the ground or store it away in the church somewhere with reverence and care. Immediately following this, celebrate the birth of the new group with birthday cake (only one candle, of course), streamers, balloons, the works!

    Play Together - Youth groups love extroverts! We design so many activities that force teens to get up in front of others and act stupid, or force them to interact with people they hardly know. But what about the introverts? "4 Corners" is a good opening activity that allows a new group to learn about one another while also being low stress for the introverts in the group who often hate name memorization games or having to get up in front of a bunch of people and introduce themselves (or a partner). Start by creating a list of categories that can be divided into four choices. For example:
    1. Which free car would you choose: jeep, BMW, electric, pickup truck
    2. Choice of class to be stuck in all day: math, art, gym, study hall
    3. Choice of vacation destination: beach, mountains, Europe, skiing in Colorado.
    4. Character(s) you'd want to be trapped with in an elevator: Brian, the dog from "Family Guy," the robot Wall-E, The Powerpuff Girls, Homer Simpson
    As you read each category, designate a different corner of the room or playing space for each possible choice. When you say "Go!" each person moves to the corner that fits the answer they would choose. Quickly you will discover the similarities among members in the group as well as the diversity. If you want, invite some in the group to share why they made the choice to be in one corner or another. You can even shift the categories from fairly trivial questions to increasingly more thoughtful (such as: How do you feel about being in this group right now: thrilled, confused, anxious, not sure.)

    Create Together: Creating art can draw a group together, give them something to talk about, and develop a sense of shared purpose and accomplishment. This can be done in a variety of ways. If you are eating together, cover the tables with butcher paper and provide lots of markers or crayons. Write intriguing questions on the paper (What's the furthest place you ever travelled? What do you like best about church?) and invite youth to respond in writing or pictures as they eat together. Alternately, lay out a large sheet of paper or cloth and invite the group to work together on a mural around a shared theme such as community. Other projects might include making masks together or doing a tie dye project (for example, everyone tie dyes a square of cloth and then these are all attached together to form a quilt that symbolizes both the bonds and the diversity of your group.)

    Solve Challenges Together - There are many excellent resources for team-building or community-building activities and events that encourage groups to forgo competition and instead learn to support and care for one another as they solve some sort of fun, physical or mental challenge. Check here for a lots of free ideas. I also highly recommend these resources:



    Levi and Steph said...

    i like your idea on the transition from year to year with the funeral>birthday cake.

    What do you think would work with graduating groups or perhaps when a youth pastor is leaving a group (on a positive note)?

    just curious to hear your ideas. thanks

    Brian said...

    Good questions. I blogged a little bit recently on "how do you leave a youth ministry" (
    and part of my suggestions there were to take time to celebrate your time together but also make space and room for the kids to move on to the next leader. As far as graduating groups, I think having a graduation celebration for youth leaving the group is always a great idea. Show a powerpoint of photos you've taken of them throughout their years in the church, give them a gift of a new Bible or devotional book to take to college or on into their work life, invite others in the group to affirm the gifts they have seen over the years in these youth. And let them know that, as "alumni", they are always welcome to visit!