Heritage Church has struggled with forming a vibrant youth group in recent years despite having an incredible youth group leader and nearly 20 HUUC-affiliated high school students. We’re certainly not alone in this among UU churches — nearly every week one of my colleagues asks for help in starting/saving/reviving their youth group.
Some say traditional youth groups are failing because our youth are so busy with academics, athletics, arts, music, you-name-it. Youth group is just not attractive enough for them to make it a priority — or so we tell ourselves. So we come up with new and exciting ways to do Youth Group including fun social activities, fun justice activities, fun learning activities and … we get the same result. People show up for one or maybe two but a Youth Group fails to develop and cohere. And we’ve worn ourselves out trying to come up with yet another “fun” activity.
What if we’re trying to solve the wrong problem? What if what our youth really need, really crave is not connection with other youth, but connection with caring adults?
Today’s youth have dozens, perhaps hundreds of ways to connect with their peers. Sports teams, theater ensembles, music programs, arts groups and other activities are all segregated by age providing ample opportunities for peer interaction and bonding. If youth are not involved in these kinds of groups, peer connection is just a click away on Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter.
If youth can easily experience peer bonding in other places, why go to church? Put another way, what can church provide that these other groups can’t?
Obviously, spirituality tops that list. However, one thing that church can provide that our current culture neglects is opportunities to establish loving, caring, nurturing relationships with adults.
One of the greatest gifts Heritage can give our youth is youth ministry. Intentional interactions and shared experiences tangibly show our youth that they belong to our church, that we value their presence, ideas and energy, and that we love them.
What does intentional interaction mean? Is it structured or spontaneous? Is it an attitude or a program? Does it require organization or simply prepared ground to flourish? The answer is: all of the above.
Here is an even bigger question — what if these same principles apply to all our children? Does our current practice of organizing our religious education classes by age serve our children? Can we promote intentional interactions and shared experiences among all ages?
Things to ponder. I welcome your comments and ideas.