Programs vs. Relationships
by Eric Gargus • Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church • Rome, Georgia
What does a portrait of an authentically effective youth group look like? Does it include a big budget, a monster event every month, a Chuck-E-Cheese-style meeting space, and lots of technological bells and whistles? Not quite. All these things are cool, but not necessary.
Put a few students on the canvas who care enough to reach out to other students who don’t always look or act like them. Now paint in adult leaders who pour their dorky personalities and passion for Jesus into an authentic worship time and relevant Bible lesson that has real meaning to the everyday lives of teens. Now you’ve got something!
On a Wednesday night several years ago, we reinforced the Bible teaching with a movie clip and a music video from the good old Music Video Loop, and BOOM! What we were trying to get across finally connected with many of the students (except for the middle school girl in the back row that had too many Dr. Peppers before arriving.)
This occurred as the students sat on stained, hand-me-down chairs and watched the videos on an old-school console television that is perched on an old, donated entertainment center—which is itself sitting on someone’s old coffee table (so the kids in the back row can see.)
What opened the door for the connection to happen?
Youth Leaders Only, in its 37th year, helps youthworkers in thousands of churches be aware of the music their students are listening to, use all forms of music in their ministries, and equip their students to make wise choices about the music & media they have in their earbuds 9 hours every day. A membership costs less than the price of a pizza each month! The theme of the current YLO is “Youth Leader Skills 101: Getting Back To The Basics Of Youth Ministry”. Click here to get it!
As I look out over the group of kids crammed into the narrow, rectangular meeting space we call the “Youth Room,” bunched together like silly band bracelets stuck tightly together on someone’s wrist, I see something beautiful—over half the kids in the room are there because they were invited by another kid who was already part of the group. Four became ten. Ten became twenty. And the story hopefully goes on and on.
When new kids arrive, they don’t find a super-cool youth room with all the latest gadgets. They don’t find a dark-haired, bodybuilding, Taylor Lautner look-a-like (or a pale-faced vampire dude who is supposed to be “hot”) as the youth pastor. They find me. (At least my wife thinks I’m hot! Right, Honey?) And, they find a group of teens that are far more influential than me—a group of kids who care more about what’s inside than what is on the outside. They find students who want to discover more about how this Jesus guy relates to them. And they actually have fun in the process!
It is in the sweet spirit of devotion to each other that Paul talks about in the book of Acts that new kids find a place to be honest about their faith. Do you want to grow an authentic and effective youth group? Teach your kids to be like Jesus and watch God make His amazing connection with both the new kids and the regulars. And don’t be afraid to be yourself as you teach raw, Bible truths week in and week out. After all, you are in the portrait too!