In our current culture, both youth and adults struggle to make consistent long term commitments such as showing up to youth group every Sunday evening for nine months. But we found that many folks were able and eager to make a six-week commitment.
As a former youth minister, I know my fair share of ice breakers and I enjoy a good night of bowling with teenagers as much as the next person. But between the sporadic youth group attendance, the lack of plentiful good youth curriculum, and the pressure to make activities “fun” so that youth will keep coming back, it can be hard to find ways to get young people engaged in deep and meaningful formation.
Using “Growing a Rule of Life” with Youth
In my role work as a Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries, I was experiencing many of these dynamics when I learned that the Society of Saint John The Evangelist (SSJE) would be publishing a Lenten series called Growing a Rule of Life. After reviewing the curriculum, I decided to try offering a Lenten Small Group Series for my youth. Instead of youth group, we offered separate middle school and high school small groups for six weeks. A team of three adult leaders led the high school small group at a local coffee shop close to the church and I worked with a different team of leaders to facilitate the middle school group at the church. We met during our normal youth group time and we had far higher participation during those six weeks, in terms of the number of youth, the number of leaders, and the depth of engagement.
Why I Love The “Series” Idea
The small group Lenten series was fantastic for our parish in four important ways:
- It strengthened relationships between youth and adult mentors. In our current culture, both youth and adults struggle to make consistent long term commitments such as showing up to youth group every Sunday evening for nine months. However, we found that many folks were able and eager to make a six-week commitment. Because so many people were able to make the commitment, we had a consistent group of youth and leaders together for six weeks which strengthened relationships all around.
- Because the six-week commitment was more accessible for people than youth group, the series engaged both youth and mentors who did not regularly participate in our weekly youth group activities. These folks added invaluable richness to our conversations.
- With a larger number of folks participating, we were able to separate into middle school and high school small groups. Until the Lent we offered these small groups, we had never experienced enough youth participation in youth group to make it possible to split into two groups.
- The separate middle and high groups combined with the consistency of the groups allowed for deep and meaningful discussions. While I believe that intergenerational ministry is imperative in faith communities, there are also times when “going deep” requires developmentally appropriate age groupings.
Tips for Trying the “Series Model”
I hope you will try this model in your own context, a few recommendation based on strategies that made a big difference in our context:
- Intentional Leader Recruitment – Be thoughtful about the adults you ask to lead the series and make sure to have a team of three to four adults in case someone gets sick or needs to be away for one week.
- Intentional Youth Recruitment – If your parish is small or medium in size, personally invite each youth to participate, either directly or by asking their parents if they would be able to participate. Make sure to begin recruiting well in advance so that busy families can get the series on their calendar.
- Ask For A Commitment – When you ask either an adult mentor or a youth to participate, make sure you communicate that this is not a “drop in” program. Small groups work best when participants trust each other, and that trust is best built with a consistent group. Certainly people get sick or have events already on their calendars, but you can ask people to plan to attend five out of six sessions. Don’t be afraid to tell someone that this is for folks who can commit to at least five weeks and “drop in” youth group will resume after the series.
Three Series to Check Out
Formation Series from SSJE– The Society of Saint John the Evangelist has now published four formation series Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John, Five Marks of Love, Growing a Rule of Life, It’s Time To… Stop, Pray, Work, Play, & Love, and (coming Lent 2020) Signs of Life.
Living the Way of Love in Community – A nine-session program is for small groups to explore The Way of Love and experience each of the seven practices: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest.
The Teen Compass Wellness Circle Program – This is a six-session resource for helping teens discuss the interrelatedness of eight areas of wellness and learning valuable lessons about change. While it is a secular program, it can be adapted for a church setting. Living Compass also offers a 24-session Teen Faith & Wellness curriculum.
Sarah Bentley Allred received her MDiv. from Virginia Theological Seminary in May 2019. She now serves as Director of Children and Family Ministries at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina and as one of our editors at Building Faith. She loves local coffee shops, board games, the beach, and exploring new places with her husband, Richard, and their dog, Grace.