Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, New Hampshire, has a Christ-centered high school youth group ministry that goes by the name “Friday Night Live”—you guessed it, they meet for Bible study and fellowship on Friday nights. The group started as a small, in-home group but has grown and thrived.
After ten years leading it, the Lord has laid on my heart some guiding principles that I pray will benefit youth group leaders throughout the OPC.
The teen years are an important time for spiritual formation and for developing a commitment to the church. If we don’t accomplish this then, we may not get a second chance.
As the children of our churches grow into adolescence, their impressionable minds and passionate hearts will search for role models and like-minded peers who will shape their worldviews and guide them into adulthood. Of course, some of this will happen as the outworking of a godly Christian home. And some of this will happen as our teens interact with adult church members and each other after worship service, in school settings, at a church picnic, while helping to teach younger children at VBS, or even while mopping the floor on a church workday. But, things don’t always happen naturally as we’d expect or desire. And, for that reason, churches should consider providing a formalized weekly youth group where these key relationships can be intentionally fostered.
In Philippians 4:9, Paul urged the Christians to practice what they learned, received, heard, and saw in him as their leader. The youth leaders’ attitude will set the disposition and tone of the meeting. When approaching a group of impressionable and sometimes insecure teenagers, youth leaders must show a visible enthusiasm in their roles. This cannot be overstated, because a teen will desire to attend only as much as leaders show that they desire to be there, too! If the group is showing signs of disinterest in the meeting’s events (and apathy among a group of teens can spread like wildfire), look at how the leaders are communicating and responding to the group as a whole.
Youth leaders (at Amoskeag, leaders are often a married couple) must be effective not only at leading the group energetically but also at engaging and encouraging teens individually. During a short free time or before and after the youth group meeting, observation of group dynamics can quickly determine which teens may require additional attention. Depending on the size of the group, teens naturally form into smaller groups by age, gender, etc., and some may be left out and need to connect. The leaders should capitalize on opportunities to welcome each teen and display a genuine interest in each teen’s life. Our activities often do not get formally started until fifteen to twenty minutes after our official start time due to chatting with every teen, especially visitors. In 1 Thessalonians 2:12, Paul says that he exhorted each member of the church, encouraging and charging each one in their walk with Christ. Knowing the members of your group individually will increase their comfort level and help you apply the Bible study.
Applying boundaries can facilitate a healthy chemistry among all participants in the youth group. Whether you are playing a game, studying the Bible, or singing, teens appreciate knowing what is expected of them. Proverbs 11:14 states, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls.” Treating youth groups as a free time where teens simply mingle on their own can lead to cliquish behavior along with tension and discomfort for those not fitting in. This tension reinforces social barriers and can cause teens to disengage from group discussion and not return in the future. Boundaries provide expectations for the teens. Our boundaries included showing attention and respect, following a consistent schedule each week, and participation in all activities. These aided in keeping minds and bodies engaged and focused during the meeting.
Confident and dynamic leaders who are able to guide the group and relate to each teen is the first, but not the only, step in promoting group unity. One of our hallmark events crucial to further uniting our youth group is an annual weekend retreat into the mountains of New Hampshire. This extended period outside of the weekly meeting gives the teens and leaders a chance to become more acquainted, learn from God’s Word, and participate in activities unique to the retreat. In addition, regional mission trips performed every few years, such as serving at the Boardwalk Chapel, have been used by the Lord to unify our group and spread the gospel. These special events galvanize our group and help to form a base from which we can grow in Christ and in number.
During each weekly meeting, our first organized activity is a game purposefully designed to expel physical energy. Games also double as a fun way to become more familiar with others. The best games are characterized by constant movement of the highest amount of people possible. Steer away from games like relays where most of the teens are standing by and waiting their turn. Playing upbeat music during a game also creates a more relaxed and fun setting.
Before our Bible study time together, we create fun ways for teens to introduce themselves to the group, play funny games during snack time (like “would you rather …”), and then implement our tactical sociological stimulus: an in-unison hand clap. Before beginning our Bible study, the teens are restless, coming down from their “high” of games and sugary snacks. The unison group clap, if it is performed consistently every week, sets the habit for shifting all focus to the leader.
Our Bible studies are topical and chosen to help prepare teens for spiritual conflict in early adulthood. We deal in apologetics, current events, book studies, and some video series, with a goal of biblical worldview formation. Our method is discussion. On a Friday night, teens do not want a lecture on church doctrine. There is a place for that, but, at youth group, leaders should act as discussion facilitators and guide conclusions in light of God’s Word. Oftentimes, the leaders’ talking points may need to be modified based on the direction of the discussion, or they may need to redirect the discussion if it begins to go in a less-than-edifying direction.
Finally, after prayer time, our meeting ends by standing in a circle, arms around shoulders, singing the words of Psalm 133 at the top of our lungs: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
The author is a member of Amoskeag Presbyterian in Manchester, New Hampshire.
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