4 Tips For Navigating Diversity In Your Youth Group

Jen Willard
February 18th, 2020

Diversity in your youth group means that you should be able to look around the room and see teenagers from different genders, racial and cultural contexts, abilities, and financial backgrounds worshiping God together. The Bible makes a strong case for the importance of worshiping together and the Bible shows us that diversity in the church is actually a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to talk about how we can practically navigate building on this kind of diversity in our youth groups. 

Recognize Your Opportunities and Hurdles 

One of the best things that you can do to research the diversities in your area is to contact the schools that the teens you are reaching attend. You might have to set a meeting with a counselor or principle, but they should be able to tell you about the kids that make up your local school system and give you opportunities to ask questions about the students.  You might be able to ask questions like, “How many students are on the free lunch program?”, “How many students have to take the bus home after school?”, or even “What percentages of students claim a certain racial background?”

If you want a more diverse youth group, start here. This information should influence the way that you do ministry. If you find that you are lacking in females, when your local schools are predominantly female, it might be time to reassess your ministry strategy and the way that you are doing outreach to students.  

Make Space 

You don’t need the biggest and best youth space to be able to make space for students. You will have to make space in the culture of your youth group to bring in more diversity. Once you identify your opportunities and hurdles, set out a plan of action for how you will reach new students who may be different from the students you have reached easily in the past. You may need to train your volunteers, cast vision to your students, and find new people to help in your youth department. 

Making space is important but can be a difficult step in navigating diversity. For my current ministry, we pick kids up and drop them off if they respond to a text about needing a ride. We realized that some of our kids from single parent homes were missing out on church simply because their parent was still at work when church started and they couldn’t find a ride. It wasn’t easy for us to find drivers, ask the church for more gas money, or convince people that this was a need for our context, but it was an important step to building and maintaining diversity. Find ways to make space in your youth group for people who may want to worship with your group but just can’t see the way that they fit into your current status quo. 

Facilitate Open Conversations 

If you facilitate a safe space for students, then students will probably begin to be open and honest with you and/or your leaders. Small groups can give students a great place to think out loud and discuss the ways that their faith may intersect with their everyday lives. Remember to listen closely to each student and understand that their lived experiences may be different. Some of them will be able to understand grace and love easily. Others may question why God would love them in the first place. It is important to remind students that God will meet them right where they are at and listen closely to understand their perspective.

Above all else, love

Jesus reminds us that loving our neighbor as ourselves is one of the most important things we can do as Christians and is actually a close second to loving God! If we love God and have help from the Holy Spirit, we should be able to find ways to love our neighbors, even when they are very different from us. If you are seeking diversity for the right reasons, you will understand that God loves and created all of those differences. It can be hard to run a youth group full of people that have different backgrounds. However, if you seek God, run after unity, and above all else, love it is possible to have a diverse youth group that points people to Jesus!

There’s been some fantastic resources featured at NYWC in the last couple years regarding diversity and racism. Check out Black And White: Confronting Racism One Relationship At A Time By John Hambrick and Teesha Hadra.

Also, check out these digital sessions from past years’s NYWC regarding diversity and racial reconciliation:

Jen Willard

Jen Willard is currently the full time Youth Pastor at church near Little Rock, AR. She loves continually learning about ministry and is a graduate of Nazarene Theological Seminary’s MDiv program. Jen loves drinking coffee and traveling to new places with her husband Bryan. Follow her on Instagram at @duckjd.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.