Youth groups are for believers and non-believers
Part 4 of 'How to start a youth ministry from scratch'.
So far in this series, we've looked at the different kinds of youth ministries you can run, the importance of finding the right leaders, and thought about how to design a program that looks after families. Now, we're going to look at how to structure your regular youth group gathering. The links for these articles are to the right.
What youth groups sometimes look like
The first image that usually pops into someone’s head when the term “youth group” or “youth ministry” is mentioned is that often chaotic gathering of overly energetic, sometimes socially awkward teenagers on any given Friday night of school term. It seems inevitable that any gathering of young people will have to contain a mix of chaotic games (often messy) and activities that are thinly veiled attempts to make teenagers flirt with each other for the entertainment of the onlookers (E.g., “Honey if you love me give me a smile“, “Straws and Rubber bands“, etc). But the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way!
What Christian gatherings should look like
Because young people are people first, and they need what all people need – the transforming power of God’s Word in his son Jesus by the Spirit - then the regular youth group gathering should be centred around God’s Word. This is why the aims of a “Bible Focus” type of youth ministry are:
- To teach & study the Bible
- Be a Christian community
- Live out the values of Jesus
- Engage real life with real Jesus
- Be a counter cultural experience (a glimpse of heaven even!)
This is really about your theology of church, what you believe Christian gathering is all about, what Christians do when they’re gathered together, and why they meet in the first place. If you don’t know what your theology of church is, here is a really helpful place to start: www.bettergatherings.com.au.
While you work out what your theology of Christian gathering is, I think a good biblical and simple working definition is “God’s people gathered around His Word“. This means that your Sunday church meetings, your Bible study groups, your kid’s club, and your youth group all count as type of Christian gathering if their primary purpose is to meet around God’s Word, that is, to know him in the way he reveals himself by his Word and ultimately in the “Word made flesh” – Jesus. A Christian gathering is a representation of the heavenly church and should contain the things that Christians do when they gather:
- Teaching from God’s Word
- The public reading of God’s Word
- Singing to God and to each other about God
- Prayer for each other and the world
- Opportunities to share the Christian life together, to know each other better and encourage one another
- Fellowship around food, eg. supper, morning tea, dinner, etc.
A Christian gathering doesn’t have to look like a typical Sunday church service, and given that young people are open to experimental learning, you should take the opportunity to be creative with how the Bible is taught and how you create the opportunities to share the Christian life together, to know each other better and encourage one another.
The Christian gathering isn’t limited to these components/segments of Bible Teaching, Singing, Prayer, Sharing Life, and Fellowship over Food. Apart from Bible Teaching and Prayer, it’s not necessary to either have all of them or be limited by just these, having a regular memory verse time is quite a good addition for example.
Of course, there’s now a big question pushing it’s way into your mind isn’t there…?
What about non-Christians at youth group?
If the main youth group gathering is ordered around Christian gathering then what about non-Christian young people?
Excellent question! Here you need to go back to your foundational theological principles. You chose the “Bible Focus” type of youth ministry because you want kids to know and trust Jesus & adopt his values. Because you believe this can only happen by God’s Word. And because you want kids to “do life” with Jesus and see what this looks like in practice. These are not merely discipleship reasons but missional ones too! The wise Jodie McNeill calls this “Dual Action“. What he means by this is that you can disciple people and mature them in the Christian faith while evangelising and gospelling non-Christians at the same time, it doesn’t have to be either one or the other.
The Christian church has actually been operating this way for millennia, and the main youth group gathering can do the same.
Of course, the criticism is that young people won’t come along to a youth group that is all about God, Jesus and the Bible.
Perhaps that’s true enough.
Holding out a better way of life
The world is, not surprisingly, quite resistant to the message of the gospel, and as much as people like the idea of Jesus (like Ghandi) they don’t like him to tell them what to do. But the answer is not to then try and coax in non-Christians with worldly bait so you can then gently introduce a very other-worldly way of life (this is often the trick of the salesman “free hotdog and drink if you come to our store on Saturday”). The world doesn’t need the church to mimic the worldly ideas of what a fulfilling life is (but with a much poorer budget and minus the sex and alcohol).
No, the answer is to hold out a way of life that the world will not and indeed cannot offer. The world needs the church to be the church, the bride of Christ, the members of his body. The world needs the church to proclaim the gospel and teach the Word of God in all it’s fullness. The world needs to see Christians gathering together because of their common unity in Jesus and not because of their common age or race or gender.
It’s for this reason that I believe it’s important that the main youth group gathering include both junior and senior high age young people and both genders because young people, like all people, need to learn the value of loving and relating to those different to them in age, sex, taste etc., and junior high age young people need to have senior high age young people to look up to. My aim is to never split them no matter how much we grow in number and especially no matter how much the senior high might complain about the immature juniors or the juniors complain about the boring seniors, if anything that’s the perfect reason to keep them together!
Surely when a non-Christian young person (or any person) walks into this type of Christian gathering they will be like the unbeliever in Corinth who sees God at work in His people gathered around His Word and exclaims “God is really among you!” (1 Cor 14:24-25).
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