Suggestions for your very first youth group meeting

A reader-submitted question by Christina:

“I am a new youth pastor with my very first job and will be starting in a few weeks. I was wondering if you had any ideas on how to do your first Wednesday night ever?”

This is a great question because I’m in a similar situation right now. This past Sunday was my first official day at my new church here in Minnesota, so I’m starting new in a ministry position, too.

What suggestions do you have for this fellow youth worker?

My first suggestion is to keep it light and fun for the first couple weeks. Focus on building relationships with the students, learning their names and feeling out the group’s atmosphere. Come prepared with a couple games, ice breakers and personal stories. It’s usually better to over-prepare with a new group in case something doesn’t work out as well as you anticipate. I’ve had the awkward experience of watching a couple “fun games” I prepared flop pretty badly and then having nothing to do for the next hour. You can always cut material as time runs out and use it the next week instead.

Another idea is to ask some parents to provide snacks and drinks. Kids may feel more comfortable if they’re hiding behind food and have something else besides maintaining eye contact.

The top questions going through the students’ minds are probably:
1. Can I trust this person?
2. Does this person care about me?
3. Who is this person and what is he/she all about?
4. What’s going to happen with our youth group now and will I like what happens?

The first two are infinitely more important than the third and fourth. If they trust you and know that you love them, you could almost do anything to the youth ministry and still have their support. (Doesn’t quite work the same way with parents and church leadership, though!) The best way I’ve found to build trust is to model vulnerability and let them see that you’re a real person who is not afraid to be open and authentic. If they see that you can be that way, they’ll feel safer doing the same with you and will naturally be more trusting. That doesn’t mean you should tell them all your deep dark secrets — on the contrary! There are many things that are probably not appropriate for students to know, but you can easily share about trials, disappointments, successes, victories, heartache, etc.

Posted on February 21, 2007

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  • We did a moving meal which some of the volunteer leaders organised, and at each stage the young people had a chance to ask questions to me in a big group setting, but also to have smaller one-on-one conversations.

  • Christina:
    Tim makes some great suggestions. Building trust will be very important as you begin, and appropriate vulnerability is a must. If you are succeeding another youth minister at the church, it might become even more important, because the students will probably really miss the former youth minister, and might have an attitude of, "you can't replace [youth minsiter's name]." The good news is that you can't do that, nor is that your job. Feel free to acknowledge what has come before and praise the good things that have been going on (but don't criticize things you may not agree with). Once the students understand that you are not there to replace what has come before but to build on the positive, they will be more open.

  • another thought might be to try to get a feel of what they know or want to learn. Perhaps you could give them a few questions to answer and get back to you. Questions about how well they feel they know the Bible, what topics or subjects they would like to discuss, issues they want to learn about. Just some basic stuff to have an idea of where to start teaching.

    Some groups are pretty versed in the basics of the Bible – so starting with a lesson on the breakdown or order of Scripture would be bad. But maybe starting with a lesson on the role of each believer in the body of Christ would work. You don't know the students (or other adult leaders for that matter) very well, so allow them to help you get a better grasp on who they are.

    I would emphasize the need to show them who you are and that they can trust you. One of the best things that happened when I came to my current church (8 months ago) was that the second week I was here the high school went to a week-long conference. So immediately the group got to see myself and my wife in a relaxed setting and we really got to know them (outside of who they are in class).

  • Huge thanks to all of you – Tim, Chris, Benjer, and Mike! All of your suggestions were great!! This was about a month ago, so I have spent the past few weeks working on these ideas and focusing on the relationship aspect of getting to know everyone and allowing them to get to know me, and it was been a blast!

    I really feel connected to the group and we're ready to get rolling now.

    Thanks again for all of y'alls (I'm from the South!) help!

  • Tim

    No problem, Christina! Thanks for the question. :)

  • Jenni

    So, Christina, I am in the same boat. I am starting two separate groups…one for junior high and one for high school. Did you use any particular survey sheets for them to answer the questions about their Biblical knowledge etc.? What kind of icebreakers did you use? I'm looking for LOTS of idea! What about a curriculum? Do you have a particular curriculum you are using to teach from?

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