While most of our topics this month have been on getting the youth focused on a community other than their youth group, we can’t neglect the power of that group. Drama, frustrations, and just not spending time together, can often be hurtful to a youth community. The positives and benefits of a great youth community though are amazing and transformative. So today we look at…
“How do you try to create/deepen community in your youth group?”
Chris Cherry is an ordained minister who received his Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology. He enjoys foosball and skittles, but doesn’t particularly care for static electricity. He is currently serving as Minister to Students at St Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.
“Community” is such a catchy word in churches. In fact, it’s used so often in church contexts most of its meaning has slowly faded away. “Community” does not mean the same thing as fellowship, friends, or hanging out.
Daniel Ritter, a friend of a friend, reclaims the word “community” in this way (paraphrased):
Community is more than simply people gathered together. Community means everyone is welcome to the table, even if some need high chairs. Community is a place of open arms, open minds, and open hearts. Community is living through each other into a place of authentic accountability. Community is not a one-time event—it is helping each other grow into the fullness of who God created us to be.
Desmond Tutu explains it this way: “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.”
Simple, right?… Part of our job, then, is to teach that and live that with teenagers.
The so called “easy” answers here are things like mixing up the seating arrangements and asking your older students to intentionally make connections with the younger ones. The harder answer, but perhaps the more transformative answer, is to experience life together. The best way to do that is through prayer.
When youth pray together, pray for each other, and pray out loud, they naturally lower their defenses, they see that all in the room (adults included) have needs and concerns, and they get to know each other on a deeper level. Here are two strategies I have “permanently borrowed” for occasional use with our group (in other words, I get no credit for these):
- Instead of taking prayer requests and having someone close the gathering in a single voiced prayer, give someone the opportunity to pray for a request or praise immediately after the petition is made. So, when someone offers a prayer request, another student in the room volunteers to pray out loud for that person and his or her request. After that short prayer, another request or praise is taken and someone new prays for that person and that request or praise. This takes significantly longer, but every request is prayed for and every student knows the community around him or her genuinely cares. (I’ve also seen that by prayer #5 and so on, students who don’t normally pray out loud begin to volunteer, so it also helps to build a culture of prayer in the lives of students).
- On retreats and trips, I often give each person a prayer partner. There’s no science to this except that I try to mix the ages of who gets paired. At the end of the Bible Study times on our trips, the partners find a spot around the room and pray for each other. Out loud. On the first day, this is always awkward, but by the last day, they always report this to be one of the more meaningful things they did during the trip.
Building community isn’t easy and it isn’t formulaic. Each group is different. Praying together has allowed our group to reach beyond the usual expectations of relationships and friendships and to really care about each other deeply. Our youth group is still a far cry from the community exhibited in the early church, but, by now, each one of them should know how to pray for you.