Some of the most significant work that we do at FCS is small, quiet, and often goes unnoticed outside of the neighborhood. One of those crucial works is walking alongside children and teenagers. Empowering youth is part of our key pillar of Neighborhood Engagement at FCS. It’s all about building authentic community – which sounds simple, but is hugely impactful. Today, we’re unpacking the best principles we’ve found for creating a vibrant youth program, and offering some hard-won lessons in the process.
Why Do We Invest Time into Kids and Teens?
Many of our leaders benefitted from youth volunteers in their past. They understand how powerful it feels when adults invest in your life as a kid. It’s often the one time each week that kids have the opportunity to spend time with adults who care about them and create a safe “third’ space outside of home and school.
For our volunteers, there’s an intersection of giftings – they know how to understand a child and have fun with them, too. This intersects with our view of faith – we all belong together, especially in our larger world. We try to live as one – with children, too. It’s a way to change the world.
What Keeps Our Volunteers Going?
Our volunteers say over and over that they’re motivated by moments of celebration. After our decades in youth group, we’ve been able to celebrate kids who started coming in kindergarten, and are now serving as leaders. We hear from parents that youth ministry has helped them in their parenting journey. We’re engaging in the long game of supporting families, and it’s hugely rewarding.
Each week, our volunteers hear from our kids that youth group is one of their favorite parts of the week. They are unhappy when it’s not scheduled or needs to be canceled! That’s a big motivator to continue engaging with kids.
Finally, our volunteers say how much the kids have impacted their lives for the better. No matter what’s going on in the rest of their day, coming to youth group helps them feel positive and energized.
What Sets FCS Youth Programming Apart?
In other programs, neighboring communities are often artificially segregated. FCS is intentional about bringing communities together. We really listen to parents and kids when it comes to serving the neighborhood well. FCS develops curriculum based around the lives of our individual kids, and it taps into their goals, struggles, and preferences.
In addition, we’re adamant that outsiders won’t come in and serve in a way that plays into certain assumptions. When we’ve had other adults visit our youth group, we’re insistent that they allow themselves to be served by the kids within the group – rather than entering as someone who can provide everything that’s needed.
What Makes an Ideal Volunteer in This Space?
We believe that a humble heart posture is essential. Don’t try to be a savior. Instead, focus on showing up because you want to help in ways that aren’t self-centered. Make sure you want to spend time authentically with kids, and don’t enter with an agenda.
Don’t assume you know what someone needs. Make sure you’re asking – both kids and parents – how you can best support them.
Consistently show up. Make sure you’re present and having conversations, not getting distracted. Show curiosity for how and why kids do things – rather than approaching with a judgmental attitude.
What Are Some Ingredients for a Safe Youth Group?
Start with humility – own your mistakes with kids and families. It’s disarming when you acknowledge when you don’t get it right. Don’t be fragile, and keep showing up with authenticity. If you’re not genuine, kids can recognize it right away.
Be open about your struggles and show that you’re a normal human being. It helps the kids to connect with you, and it develops genuine relationships.
Kids need to know – are you here for ME or my performance? Will you listen to me? When you convince them that you’re showing up for them, not what they can do, it makes a big difference.
Advice For Forming A Healthy Youth Group
Remember that you’re not just building relationships with the kids – you’re building one with the whole family. Rather than coming in with your own plan, look for the places where kids are naturally gathering… and join them. Continually ask yourself, “What can I do?”
If you’re interested in learning more about FCS’ approach to neighborhood engagement and place-based revitalization, connect with us at The Lupton Center – our training and consulting arm. We’d love to explore options to partner with you.
If you liked this article, you’ll love the conversation that inspired it! Click here to listen to the Place Matters podcast episode it’s based on.