Building community in a youth group
April 20 2001 by Jan R. Cartledge , Youth page guest editor

Building community in a youth group | Friday, April 20, 2001

Friday, April 20, 2001

Building community in a youth group

By Jan R. Cartledge Youth page guest editor Building community or unity within a youth group is certainly a challenge. The ideal is to have a group where everyone feels loved and cared for, where youth can share their deepest joys and sorrows. A youth leader hopes that newcomers will feel at home and that no one is able to distinguish the "in" group from the "out" group. Youth leaders long to hear a teen say, "I'm glad I'm part of this group. It means so much to me." The reality is that most groups aren't anything like our hopes or dreams. Some youth groups are loving and kind while other groups grow apart through unkind words and deeds. Some groups are characterized by a "family feel" while others don't seem to want to be together at all.

Youth groups are complex. In every youth group there are dynamics at work that can potentially create division. Some youth will lead, some will follow. Other youth will rebel and not follow anyone.

Some youth attend the group because their parents require it. Others are happy to be there whenever there is a planned event.

Some youth have deep hurts but are afraid to open up. Other youth feel good about life.

Some students are hyperactive and their attention span is short. Others are mature and listen and respond.

All of these dynamics have the potential to create a youth group full of divisiveness.

However, there are common elements in every youth group that leaders can draw on to promote unity. All adolescents share common experiences: they are maturing and growing; they are going through the various stages of adolescence; they are searching for their identity; they are discovering their gifts and abilities; they are experiencing peer pressure; they are longing for acceptance; and they all have a need to belong.

Youth workers can take these common elements and create an environment where all youth feel loved and accepted as an integral part of a family of faith. Youth leaders can seek to build a place where youth can grow in their faith, discover their various gifts and seek to make a difference in their community and world.

How do you build unity in a youth group? Following are some tips that can help a youth worker get started on making the group a loving and accepting circle of friends:

1. Establish trust in the group. Seek to break down any cliques or barriers that exist. Find ways to engage group members in activities where they work side-by-side with one another. Build programs around activities that require teamwork and cooperation.

2. Give the group and the space (or room) where you meet a name. A name can become the identifying mark for the youth and a focal point for publicity and promotion. After choosing a name for the group, create a logo to help promote the image of the group. Use the logo on T-shirts, bumper stickers, hats or mugs and on all of your publicity materials.

3. Create a Web site or a web page on the existing church site. Let the youth create and maintain it. For some cool ideas for a web page, check out the youth pages of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville (www.syndermbc.com) and Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte (www.hgbc.org). From the main church page, click on the links to the youth page.

4. Create within the group the freedom to talk and listen. Provide opportunities for youth to share their lives, their concerns, their needs, their hurts and their joys with each other. Telling one's peers about one's self provides an opportunity for trust to develop in the group.

5. Design and make available a youth T-shirt each summer with a different theme and logo. Invite youth to contribute theme and design ideas.

6. Help youth focus on others and affirm one another. When youth hear good things about themselves or compliments are offered, their feelings of self-worth will soar dramatically. Provide guided opportunities for youth to encourage and affirm one another. Help them realize that others genuinely care about them and appreciate them. Be especially mindful of shy youth or those on the fringe who may feel left out. Reach out to all youth in the group, not just the "popular" ones.

7. Provide opportunities for challenging growth. Help youth find ways to go beyond saying "I love you" by showing love through actions and deeds. This can occur when a group member experiences a time of crisis, or when the entire group gets involved in mission projects that help them reach out as a group and minister to others in their community.

8. Provide a setting for the sharing of hurts, joys, struggles, dreams and hopes. Help group members learn to not condemn or laugh at one another, but to support and encourage one another. Use small groups during retreats or Bible studies. Youth are more likely to share with a smaller group and are not as likely to be embarrassed. Small groups also give the opportunity for youth to learn more youth they might not otherwise interact with on a regular basis.

Remember that Jesus sought to build unity and diversity with his 12 disciples. His closest followers came from different backgrounds, yet Jesus was able to mold them into a group that labored together, broke bread together, prayed together and ministered together. Unity was important to Jesus as he ministered among the unloved, the lost, the sick, the misfits and the unpopular ones of society. May Jesus' example be the goal as youth leaders seek to build and encourage unity within their youth groups.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
4/20/2001 12:00:00 AM by Jan R. Cartledge , Youth page guest editor | with 0 comments
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