Youth ministry has always been famous for taking teens on fun outings to hike, bowl or for a day at an amusement park. In many churches, it is a major expectation of youth ministry from teens, parents and even church leaders.
In the last few years, that emphasis on fun and “bonding” has entered the teen Bible classes as well, with many youth groups spending as much as half of their Bible class time allowing students to chit-chat socially.
When pressed as to why these things are considered necessary staples of youth ministry, you will usually get one of two responses.
- They provide safe, “godly” fun activities for teens.
- They provide opportunities for the teens to “grow closer” to each other, with more opportunities for social bonding.
While neither secular fun activities nor allowing teens to chat with each other is wrong or ungodly, are they really always the best ways to help our teens grow spiritually – the stated goal of youth ministry? While I believe each has a small place in youth ministry, they are overused – to the detriment of our teens.
When you are planning your next outing or class for youth ministry, stop and consider these factors first.
- True deep emotional bonding comes from sharing our hearts with each other, not chatting about shallow social topics. There is a famous article circulating about how to get emotionally close to someone you want to fall in love with you. What does it suggest? Asking lots of meaningful questions and sharing the answers with each other. Having discussions during class time and retreats when teens are given a safe place and encouraged to share their hearts will help your youth group grow closer more than a thousand hours of chatting about football or makeup trends.
- Shallow social interactions can emphasize our differences more than our commonalities. Brain science and studies have shown we feel closest emotionally and have the most empathy for the people we feel are most like us. The more different we believe someone is – the more we feel distanced from them emotionally. Shallow social topics tend to find differences – for example liking different teams or fashion trends. Yes, a few of your kids will become very close because they like all of the same things. The kids on the fringes with unusual tastes will feel and be even more disconnected from the group. When sharing their hearts with each other in deep spiritual discussions those raw emotions, fears and dreams common to all of us emerge. Even the “kids on the fringes” have those in common with everyone – increasing the odds they will be viewed and view themselves as part of the crowd.
- Social activities and socializing tend to be unmonitored and allow more opportunities for bullying and other hurtful behaviors. Just because teens are attending church doesn’t mean they know how to treat each other with love and kindness. Unmonitored conversations leave lots of opportunities for someone to say something extremely hurtful without anyone else stepping in to defend the other person. I’m not advocating an adult standing over every conversation, but the more class and group discussions you have when adults encourage godly interactions and correct ungodly ones, the more your teens will learn how to speak to each other in godly ways. Remember, most teens will tell you they are just “teasing” if corrected about ungodly speech. They need to be taught how to speak to and about each other and guided discussions are a great way to start those positive interactions.
- Teens who want to find trouble will always find it. If you think the kids who are getting drunk or high or sleeping around won’t do it just because they are with a church group, you are sadly uninformed. Yes, fun, safe outings are great and a good tool for teaching teens how to have godly fun without getting high, drunk or having sex. Unfortunately, most outings youth groups take are as boring to the teens as doing nothing and some will find ways to do their acting out when adults aren’t paying attention. Finding unique opportunities to do fun godly things, challenging them by serving and sharing their faith, having unique learning experiences and more will keep many more teens engaged and not even thinking about their normal default boredom activities.
- You may be losing valuable instruction time. Many teens aren’t getting Bible anywhere but at youth group. For some the only Bible teaching they will EVER get is in your classes. Do you really want to waste one minute of that time just letting them chit-chat about secular shallow topics? They will have more fun, bond more and learn more taking that “extra” time and practicing Christian life skills like those found in our free teen lesson series. Please don’t let those valuable minutes meant for God slip away in useless chatter.
You don’t need to get rid of all your secular fun activities or refuse to let your teens chat with each other before and after class. What you do need to do though is make sure the activities and class time habits are actually meeting the goals of your ministry – not undermining them.
PC Tamara Behlarian