Youth Ministry Problems: If I could solve one, it would be…

Bryant Westbrook
May 10th, 2019

“The problem is all of the new kids coming” said one of my long term youth group students and they were not alone in feeling this way.

Within the first couple of months as the new youth director at my current church, I realized (like most churches) that the church wanted the youth group to reach new students and so did I. We spent a lot of time in those first couple of months talking about growing the youth group and inviting new students. We came up with strategies on how to reach out to unchurched students in our community and everyone loved the idea; until it happened.

When new students started showing up, I could tell everyone wasn’t really as open to the idea of reaching these students as they were when we were just talking about it.

When I Knew There Was A Problem

One night we set up our chairs in an angled formation creating two different sections. When I got up to do the talk I saw how our youth group was split. All of our “church students” were sitting on one side and all of the “new students” were sitting on the other side! It was easy to see that my church students didn’t like the change.

I got our student leadership team together (which consisted heavily of the existing students) and we talked about how the youth group was changing. I gave them a voice and let them share how they felt. The leadership team agreed that change was good for the church, but that not everyone in the youth group felt this way. 

A Change In Perspective

After hearing several comments like “They’re taking over the youth group” and “It doesn’t seem right with all of the new people here,” I stepped in and shared what was on my heart.

I shared with the leadership team that this wasn’t the first time this had happened in the course of the church’s history and that they weren’t wrong or bad for feeling this way.

During this meeting we talked about a story in scripture found in Acts 15 when the church had something called the council at Jerusalem. The reason for this council was that members of the existing church didn’t like the gentiles, the “new members,” who had started coming; they were different. It made the “existing church” uncomfortable. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

This passage gives us a glimpse into how differences in groups were handled in the early church and what they came up as a solution. Here is that group’s amazing conclusion:

“It is our judgement, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19)

After talking about this particular story in scripture and sharing our thoughts, we talked about some different ways we can do what was done in scripture by making it easier for new students to get involved and become deeper committed followers of Jesus.

Our Next Steps

Student Roles In The Group

Our youth group has a youth band that plays at our weekly gatherings. I noticed a new student that had a talent for playing the bass guitar, so we got him involved in the band. Once this student joined the band, it allowed for everyone to connect easier because a tension was relieved by building bridges between the two groups. 

We also got new students involved in singing, serving in local mission work and joining the student leadership team. By giving new students roles it allowed them to have buy in and form relationships with the existing students.

Common Experiences

Our summer mission trip was coming up. I noticed that none of the new students were signed up, so I talked with them about going. The results were amazing. The youth group was able to bond in a way like never before because they were all in a brand new environment, together, and working as a team. By the end of the week they were all getting along and having an awesome time. A common experience doesn’t have to be something big like a mission trip, it could be an outing to Sonic, a game at youth group that encourages teamwork or a local service project.

Small Groups

After messages at youth group, we go into small groups. One way we changed up group time was by allowing space for everyone to feel comfortable and welcome in their groups. There are weeks that we mix the entire youth group to allow for a diverse discussion between the church youth and new youth. We also have weeks where we don’t mix small groups so the new students have a space to converse about being introduced to scripture and the church students can talk about going deeper into scripture. 

Implementing these changes has been hard, but worth it. I love this quote about change, because it reminds me that change may not be fun but change can bring out the best.

“Change is hardest at the beginning, messiest in the middle and best at the end.” – Robin Sharma

Bryant Westbrook

Bryant Westbrook is the youth director at First United Methodist Church is Valley Center, KS. Bryant has served as a missionary in Alaska, program staff for YouthWorks, treatment counselor for teens and has a passion for student leadership. Bryant's contact is bryant@fumcvc.com and he blogs at bryantwestbrook.wordpress.com.

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