The Two Most Important Things I’m Doing in My Youth Ministry

Youth Specialties
February 23rd, 2015

We are fortunate to know so many incredible youth workers that are far wiser than we are and Stephen Ingram is one of them. Enjoy his guest blog post!

I bet many, if not most, of you are reading this article looking to find a new technique, program or idea that will help grow your ministry. I want to apologize in advance if I misled you with the title.

While these will not guarantee you greater numbers or flashier programming, I can promise you that these two practices are some of the most profound that I get to perpetuate each week in the student ministry I’m in charge of.

Hugs and High Fives

In our student ministry, we work hard to try to ingrain the practices of the greater church. We do communal prayers, say the Lord’s Prayer each worship and have the students lead most of the aspects of the service.

One day I was thinking about the Sunday morning service at our church and wondered what we could do with the passing of the peace element of the liturgy. So much of a youth service can be consumption-based where youth see the back of one another’s heads and a speaker and a screen.

The ancient tradition of the passing of the peace is not only a way to bring students deeper into an ancient practice of the church but it also reorients their consumerist tendencies of worship. It allows the students to physically interact with one another, look each other in the eye, and have a very real moment of humanity.

The problem is that in most churches, the passing of the peace is usually a quick, impersonal forced practice. Many churches practice this like it’s an obligation, shaking the hands of two to three people around them and quickly sitting down. We knew we would have to embody a new culture from the beginning if this were to be successful.

So, instead of the often cold passing of the peace, we do our version called Hugs and High Fives. We introduce it as a time to really see the people around you. We talk about it as a time to get around the room and greet each other with love.

It is awesome.

We usually block out about five minutes for this in our order of worship. Our youth have even added another aspect to this new liturgical practice: the awkward hand hug. The always trustworthy source, Urban Dictionary, defines the hand hug as “Similar to a high five except for as soon as your palms touch, you each wrap your thumb around the other’s hand.”

Here is the bottom line: There are few times in our kids lives where they are told to and given the space to warmly greet one another.

Almost nowhere in our society and even in the church are youth given the specific time to re-humanize each other with smiles, hugs, kind words, and other symbols of physical affection, and we are worse off for it.


Second on my list of the most important things I’m doing is another free and simple practice: carpool. Yep, carpool.  

Parents are busy, students are busy—heck, I’m busy—so regular face to face interaction between parents and myself is something that often occurs haphazardly in the hallways after church or when we pass each other going in and out of places like restaurants.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have our regular formal meetings for training, updates, and trip information but the time that I am made physically available to them on a regular basis is very limited. Well, it was limited.

About a year ago, we started a new morning junior high Bible study and I thought it would be a good idea to stand outside of the church in the drive through and greet them to make sure they knew where to go. It was incredible. I was able to talk to every parent whose youth came to that Bible study that morning!

So the next week I did it again—and again and again. I found the practice so helpful I began to do the same thing at our Sunday night worship service. Between these two practices, I am physically seeing, having brief conversations with, and making myself available to more than 100 parents every week! It’s incredible the information they give me, the questions they ask, the smiles and appreciation they share, and how that small moment can bring connection.

I learn about bullying and when the next baseball game is going to be. I share laughs and tears through a rolled-down car door window. I get to build up and be built up all because I take 20 minutes before two of our weekly programs and open some car doors with a smile and a greeting.

I cannot tell you how important this practice has been to the ministry that we do at my church. It is simple but profound. It’s not only good hospitality but it’s also one of the best ways I have found to de-silo the youth ministry in our church.

I warned you that these wouldn’t be flashy, youth-group-growing practices. They are, however, two of the best things that I am able to do in the ministry I am responsible for—and the beautiful thing is, they won’t cost your ministry a dime.

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of “Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time.” organicstudentministry.com 

Youth Specialties

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