"Questions about faith related personal experiences are another great option for check ins: Talk about a time you felt joy. What does God’s presence feel like to you? Share a challenge you have faced."
What Does Your Youth Group Meeting Look Like?
Youth group gatherings don't have to be complicated in order to be meaningful. At our suburban church, with twenty-five youth on the rolls, we have common challenges: busy youth, abundant community recreational opportunities, and shifting church attendance patterns. We meet three times per month, for two hours each session.
While the main activity might vary from week to week, youth group traditions are formed by ending and beginning our gatherings the same way each time. There is no one “perfect” way to plan youth group, but these seven tips – along with a year long calendar published well in advance – help create the consistency needed for building trust and connections to explore faith together.
1. The Importance of Rituals
Youth value ritual and tradition. The fall youth retreat, which has had the same format for more than a decade, the candles on Christmas Eve, helping with the rummage sale, leading the Good Friday service – these are just a few of the traditions that our youth anticipate and enjoy. These rituals are a reminder that the church community is organized around a specific purpose, loving and serving God and neighbor.
Youth group openings and closings are an opportunity to establish rituals and traditions that form the group identity and remind us of our purpose. I believe the best beginnings and endings are simple yet memorable. As in worship, our first task is to gather and enter the space, focused on our community’s purpose, living as disciples of Jesus Christ. Our final task is to be sent into the world to serve.
2. Handling The Arrival Gap
Teens do not all get to youth group at the same time. Often there is a 10-15 minute period in which youth arrive. Wait for everyone to arrive in a space near the church entry so that all enter the youth room together. Use this time to have informal conversation, offer a snack, or engage in a contemplative activity like coloring or finger labyrinths.
3. Managing Phones and Technology
Students arrive with phones in hand. Rather than ban them, we can help youth practice how to coexist with technology (a skill many adults are practicing, too). Before heading to the youth room, remind students that phones are a wonderful tool but that they are also a great distraction. Phones may be used to look up a Bible passage or answer a question but not to engage with social media or games. The guideline is, if the phone is distracting you from being present with the people in the room, put it away.
4. Adding Visual Elements
Simple visual reminders set the youth space apart as sacred space. Cover a table with a cloth in the color of the liturgical season. Have each youth light a votive candle and place it on the table. Have a Bible open to the scripture reading. Consider occasionally adding other elements relating to the reading or topic – singing bowls, holding crosses, fishing nets and shells are a few possibilities.
Community is built by listening to each other’s stories and responding with care and compassion. Give each person the opportunity to share the high and low from their week (sometimes called roses and thorns). Questions about faith related personal experiences are another great option for check ins: Talk about a time you felt joy. What does God’s presence feel like to you? Share a challenge you have faced.
Once youth gathered and entered the space, it is time for the learning and activity portion of youth group. But a transition is needed. Music, games, art, videos, and scavenger hunts are all effective transitions from check-ins to learning time.
After activities and clean up, it is time to gather together to be sent into the world with a prayer and a blessing. You may choose one prayer or style that you always close with, or rotate through youth led prayers, leader led prayers, popcorn prayers, movement prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, and/or prayer stations. When the prayer is completed, pause for a moment and then end with a commission or blessing such as “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Conclusion: Communication and Consistency
Before beginning any new opening or closing rituals, ask the youth for their valuable input. Simple, engaging, and memorable traditions will strengthen the group and help youth feel comfortable knowing what to expect. Over time, consistency will establish group identity, maintain focus on loving God and neighbor, and build strong connections with other people in the group.
Christine Hides is Director of Ministries with Children and Youth at Northbrook United Methodist Church in Illinois. A deacon candidate, child advocate, and mother of teenagers, Christine is passionate about finding creative ways to help children, youth and families incorporate faith into everyday life. Christine blogs about faith formation christinevhides.com.