This article is part 3 in our series on turning a youth group into a youth church. If you found this in the wrong order, try looking at part 1 and part 2 to familiarize yourself with the concepts and terms we’ll be using in this conclusion.
To summarize, part 1 talked about developing leaders as they pass through your ministry on their way to becoming members of your adult congregation. Part 2 taught you strategies to grow those leaders into disciples in their own right.
Now, we get to have a conversation about fun. Too many times, I see both older and younger leaders confuse fun with chaos. This article will show you how to let your youth church have fun while also setting limits and being safe at all times.
- Growth Through Fun
- Creating A Safe Atmosphere
- Bring On The Fun
- All Things In Moderation
- Fun, In Conclusion
Growth Through Fun
Here’s the definition of fun, according to Merriam-Webster. The word has five definitions, three of which are positive and two are negative. The positive definitions all share amusement and enjoyment while the negative definitions are physically or emotionally violent.
By structuring your activities to stay within positive guidelines, your youth church will grow by becoming a place associated with happy feelings. As we discussed in the previous articles, this makes you a shelter in the storms of life which young people will flock to when they need help.
Let’s take a closer look at how we accomplish this task.
Creating A Safe Atmosphere
I have experience not only as a minister, but also as an elementary, middle school, and high school chess coach. I’ve seen thousands of kids in my time, and I can say that safety is what they desire more than anything, even if they deny it to the ends of the Earth. They find groups of friends, whether through clubs, sports, or church, and very few teens are true loners.
Not only that, but our children are our most precious resource. Without them, we have no one to replace us when we are gone, so we should do everything we can to make them safe so that they can be ready to go out into the world and be the next pastors, preachers, mayors, governors, and so on.
Adult Leaders Required
Your first mission is to find adult leaders who are both trustworthy and vigilant. Adult leaders can be lay people. Frequently, you will use parents of your youth to help supervise.
Anytime an adult will be in contact with underage people, they need a background check on file to cover you legally. Consult your attorney for specific laws in your state, province, or county, concerning who can and cannot supervise minors.
Second, make sure your adults understand the order of service and your expectations for when it is fun and when it is serious. An adult who is using their position to stop approved activities is not and should not be helping the situation. Adult vigilance is needed to stop violent, sexual, or otherwise inappropriate situations from happening.
Practice Peace, Follow Jesus
Violence happens. Disagreements turn into arguments which turn into fights. You can help soften this by having dimmer lights during fun times. Music, especially the worship music I hope you’re playing in church, can stop fights before they start. They can still happen because of all the emotional upheaval we talked about in part 2.
Disagreements and arguments can usually be handled by well-trained youth leaders, but escalating circumstances call for direct intervention. All behavior hides an unfulfilled need. Aggressive youth frequently feel lost or uncared-for. Just like Jesus Christ gave all of us a second chance, give your youth the chance to cool down and talk about their needs.
Pursuing peaceful resolutions to violent conflicts creates a feeling of safety in your youth ministry. Without the fear of retribution, young people will be more inclined to talk about their feelings than act them out. This method fosters feelings of family and love among the entire church, not just the leadership.
No Dark Corners
Finally, it should go without saying that hiding places are where bad things happen. Prior to service, any unused doors should be locked (fire exits excepted, of course). When setting up for fun, make sure that all areas can be seen easily, even if you dim the lighting. All keys need to be in trusted hands.
In my experience, it has been best to assign adults to different sections and to use youth leaders as floaters who can stop things before they start. In the early days, before you have well-trained youth leaders, this will be more difficult, but everything is more difficult in the beginning.
Metaphorical dark corners also breed impropriety. By creating a safe space, the youth of your church will feel safe enough to report when inappropriate activity occurs. Our dark corners can be the blind spots in our thinking, so always listen when someone asks for help.
Bring On The Fun
Once you’ve prepared your space and your team to facilitate fun youth group activities, it’s time to start. But what kinds of things can you do? How do you use those activities in the pursuit of discipleship and growth? This section will guide you through the thought process involved in planning many different events, activities, and games for your youth church.
What Activities Are Appropriate For You?
As I say in almost every article, every church and denomination is different. The non-denominational mega-church I worked at was fine with using video games (non-violent and non-sexual, of course) as part of our pre-service activities. My Southern Baptist grandfather would have thrown the game systems out of the window of his church.
So, seek guidance from your church’s lead pastor and your denomination’s literature before deciding on a course of action. Next, talk to your youth leaders and the other members of your youth church. Just because you think an activity is great doesn’t mean that those teens want to do it.
Doing both of those things will give your youth church a constantly revolving set of activities and games that your young people will enjoy. Consider using outdoor spaces in the summer to keep up that variety. Board games or video games in the winter or rainy seasons can also help. A ping-pong table is also a solid investment for any time of year.
When Should Fun Intersect With Service?
Your church service exists to serve the spiritual needs of your young people. It does this in two ways: first, by providing distractions so that troubled teens are not focused on by their peers, and, second, by getting those youths in the door in the first place.
A closer look at the first point deals with peer pressure and social anxiety. My own experience teaches me that young people are concerned with what others think of them. The pressure of needing to look strong and the anxiety that comes with it can be reduced or eliminated by having their peers all looking the other way when those young people need a pastor.
The second point speaks for itself. Fun activities get youth into your church, but they also get your church members talking to their friends about the place they hangout at every week. This is what grows your youth church more than anything. Parents dropping their kids off might stop in the adult church, as well, which makes your lead pastor happy.
Integrating Activities Into Your Sermon
It is imperative to understand that young brains have shorter attention spans than adult brains. You cannot preach your sermon for the same length of time as the pastor of the adult church. Leave some time before and after your youth service for games and other fun, but don’t be afraid to bring the fun into your sermon as well.
For instance, finding a way to integrate the ping-pong table I recommended grabs their attention. Observe which activities have the longest lines and craft a message using them. Get creative and have fun yourself.
Showing that you enjoy the same activities that you use to preach gives your sermons authenticity and truth that your young people crave. The more time you spend interacting with them in their element, the better you can communicate to them when writing your message. Let the fun activities break down the barriers and build bridges of communication.
On a related note, having your church members put on skits that tie into your sermon is a tradition that goes back many centuries in the church. Get your most creative youth leaders on it and bring a whole new dimension to your preaching.
All Things In Moderation
While fun is great and, well, fun, serious times always come along. Even though the games might get them in the door, some youth need a lot of work before they can become leaders in the church or the community. This means finding a middle ground between too much fun and too much seriousness.
How Do We Find The Balance?
In a word, experiment. It takes time and trials to find the perfect amount of time just like it takes time and trials to find the perfect activities. Just like those activities, the balance can change from week to week. Tragedies happen, and we must take the time to be somber and reflective in those moments.
Other times, it may be useful to take a service where the fun is never shut down, but the altar is open for one-on-one prayer and counseling the whole service. Most services, though, will be that delicate balance of enough fun to bring kids in and enough spiritual meat to fill their spirits.
Don’t ever get too married to one idea of what the balance should be. It is going to change as each young person ages out of your youth church, people move away, or they simply stop coming. You will never find a time when you wished you were less adaptable to the needs of your church.
Permission Is Better Than Forgiveness
One of the most important things to remember is that you are temporarily in charge of other people’s children while they are in your ministry. For this reason, the old adage is reversed. As a parent, I understand how crazy we get when we think our kids are being taken advantage of.
Always have accountability among the adult leaders, including yourself, and have written permission for any outings off of church property. Policies should go through the church board, and any offerings need to have the same oversight as the adult church.
Youth pastors who do not seek permission first usually find themselves having short careers. This does not mean that you should have your lead pastor holding your hand every step of the way. Rather, those steps should be outlined and approved before you start making wholesale changes to your youth program.
Keeping Young People Engaged
Be yourself. Teens, adolescents, however you want to call them, will see right through a fake smile and phony interest. Remember when you were a teen and everything seemed plastic and corporate. Don’t be that person in their lives.
Get excited. You are taking these young people on an adventure into becoming better people. You’re going to be a better person in the process, too. Be happy about it. They are only going to be kids once. It is a privilege to make an impact at this point in their life.
Get decent music. There is a ton of great worship music, no matter your denomination. Don’t sing Amazing Grace or Kumbaya for the thousandth time when songs like Awesome God and Draw Me Close To You exist. Old, tired music will turn young people away. You don’t have to play bands like Skillet or P.O.D. just get close to the modern era.
Fun, In Conclusion
Fun makes everything better when dealing with youth. They retain knowledge better, are more likely to return, and, most importantly, feel safe enough to share the problems that brought them to church in the first place. Just like a well-balanced meal for our body has a variety of nutrients, a well-balanced meal for our spirit has a variety of activities.
I hope you have gained some understanding of what and how to plan fun for your youth church and how to apply that fun to the spiritual growth of your youth.
Finally, A Youth Church
At the end of these three articles, I hope that you have come to the same conclusion as me concerning youth church. Namely, a youth church is only as successful as its pastor allows. Sometimes, that means stepping in and taking control in a crisis. Other times, it means letting your youth leaders develop on their own. You have to be a friend, a pastor, a teacher, and an event organizer all in one.
Use this series to help form a vision that will guide your youth group into becoming an incredible youth church. Don’t be afraid of bumps or hiccups along the way. Some of your greatest teaching moments will be showing your leaders how you handle unexpected situations.
I’m Lexie and thanks for sticking with me so far. Leave any comments or questions in the section below, and I’ll get to them as soon as I can.