"How to create an atmosphere
your youth group"
By Garrett Rea
I remember the Wednesday night that Amber brought James B. to our youth group for the first time. After the activities, snacks,
worship, and teaching a small group of us sat outside the building, talking about the
challenges of being a teenager, having parents who never seemed to understand, and not
knowing how to find God for help. Although it wasn't cold, James was shivering as he
poured out the details of a recent fight he had with his parents. The wind was blowing as
he started to cry and said, "I just don't know what to do. I prayed for God to help
and I don't know what to do now."
Amber meets with the leadership team of our youth group on Monday
nights and she is really growing in her love for God, love for others and leadership
skills. She had invited her friend James B. to the youth group that night because she was
possessed by an overwhelming expectation that if he came that night he would encounter
God. James is now an integral part of our games team and helps every week to create an
atmosphere of expectation in our youth group.
I was asked recently by a friend who is in youth ministry the same
question I am trying to answer in this article, "How do I create an atmosphere of
expectation in my youth group?" I need to begin by telling you about the necessity of
answering this question for yourself.
Everyone knows that there are many ingredients in successful youth
ministry. Having an atmosphere of expectation is not the only one. But it is important.
When I think back to the youth groups I was involved in as a student this principle always
seems to jump out. I went to a small church of about 60 in high school that had a youth
group of 30 students. Our format was not exactly the best. Our activities were not always
the best. But I knew that if I brought one of my friends to that group that they would
meet God and the people there would accept them. I got involved in that group because I
knew that I wasn't wasting my time. I could see the results. I felt like I was giving my
life to something that was bigger than myself and that I would have a lasting impact. I
want the same for my students. I want them to look back and see successful ministry
opportunities, changed lives, excitement, seriousness and contagious fun. My wish is that
they are part of something that they know makes a difference in their lives as well as
their friends. They need to have an atmosphere of expectation.
I imagine a young man coming into our group for the first time. He
his here as a result of an invitation by a friend whose life is changing before his eyes.
The buzz around the school is that this group is the place to be. There is also a buzz
around that it may be a little risky because everyone he knows that goes there is talking
about Jesus with boldness. But he has to come because he is seeking for something, too.
The room is energetic with excitement. Good friends and new friends are hugging and
joking. He gets greeted by the guy at his school who is on the football team. He gets
invited to be a part of one of our teams. The music starts up and it is loud and he
encounters God for the first time in his life and feels real peace. He has to see more.
The pastor stands up and makes jokes for a bit then the girl who invited him is standing
up telling about what her team is going to be doing in the trip that is coming up. He
wants to be a part of that. He knows that something is going to happen to him that night.
If you want to build an atmosphere of expectation, here is a good
place to start.
- You must have focus. If you have a youth group of 27 kids
and you are typical, you have two adults working with you. You have seen 4.24 conversions
in the last year. You have very little time to do much of anything except for the
important stuff. You do not have time to waste on anything that is not making disciples.
Get rid of any programs that you inherited when you took the position over or any programs
that are a drain to you. In our youth group everyone knows that we exist to make real and
radical disciples of Jesus Christ. I say it over and over again. If you are doing things
that don't help you accomplish your goals, be ruthless and axe them.
Let me give you scenario: you took over a youth pastor job at your church and the guy who
was there before you always took a trip to the old folks home to visit on Christmas. You
have inherited this tradition and you hate it. You want to stop doing it but you feel
guilty because, hey, we are supposed to visit the elderly right? I say get rid of those
things that drain you from what God has called you to do. God will give you your own
traditions and programs. But if you focus on things for which you don't have enthusiasm,
everyone will be able to tell and your youth group's mission will suffer by doing
something that is arguably good, but not the best.
- Go with the movers. You have to start
with one person who will do anything for God and pour your life into him. Meet him after
school for coffee to study the bible. Before school for fellowship. I even make some of my
kids go grocery shopping with me. When I see willingness for the kingdom, I jump on it.
That kind of activity is contagious. Here are some of the results from doing this. This
person's best friend will see a big difference in him. He will come to your youth group
and give his life to Christ. He will do the same things you taught him to do and have a
bigger impact than you. This process goes on and on. If you spend your time with people
who are a drain on you, the youth group will suffer.
- Cast vision all the time. Everywhere I go I am talking about
Jesus and the kingdom. I am always looking for people in whom God is working. Then I call
out of them the gifts that God has put in them along with the potential that is there for
the Kingdom. Recently I saw a kid at the mall. Surprised to see me there, he asked me,
"what are you doing here?" I said, "I love to come to the mall, man. There
are so many people that don't know Jesus here. You remember that time when the youth group
came to the mall to tell people about Jesus? Remember how we were all nervous and loving
it. I love that stuff. I loved seeing you step out and get crazy for God. You are going to
make a big difference."
Now, if I didn't really believe that when I said it to that student, I would sound like a
game show host. But he knows that I want to make disciples for Jesus, and he expects it.
So I will turn a harmless question about the mall into an opportunity to tell this student
about the big impact that he is going to have in the kingdom. That kind of attitude is
infectious. I believe in these students and I know that they have great potential. Casting
vision is my way of calling it out of them all the time. I say something which may not be
the case as of the present, but will be if the student knows that God is on his side, he
can't fail, and he makes a big difference.
- Stick to the basics of discipleship and evangelism. To
really have the students in your group wanting to come, to love being there, to buy in to
the kingdom, and to expect God to change their friends lives you must stick to the basics.
You must give them what their souls truly want: to give their heart, mind, soul, and
strength to a God who is worth dying for. Social action is nice, but it isn't the water of
life. Games are great but they are not an encounter with Jesus Christ. Focus on the great
- Celebrate victories. Every time something great happens,
make a big deal out of it. When I see people greeting first time guests to our youth
group, I make a big deal out of it. I talk about it from the pulpit and brag about it.
That is the kind of behavior that I want in our group. It is a good idea to have regular
parties to celebrate what God has done. Recently, at our end-of-the-year party, I made
everyone stand up who had come to Christ in the last year. It was awesome! There was real
electricity in the room and everyone cheered. That showed me that these students expect
God to work in our group.
- Talk like there is no option but success. I had a chat with
one of the leaders in our group recently who had just joined our leadership team. We had
set a goal in the last meeting for seeing 40 students commit their lives to Christ at the
next concert outreach that we have coming up. She thought that it would be impossible. I
reminded her that our God is the God of the impossible. He always wants more and more
people to follow him. What would it have sounded like if I said, "In our upcoming
outreach, lets pray for three converts." Where is the challenge in that? I want to
give my life to the impossible. The gates of hell will not overcome us, so I talk like I
actually believe that we are going to win in the end. (An aside: it would be unrealistic
for me to say that one million people would come to Christ at our concert. There is a
difference between building castles in the sky and being powered by the God who raised
Jesus from the dead. But we always have to be raising the bar of our expectations).
- Raise the bar. When our leadership team got comfortable with
meeting every other week, I raised the bar and said that I felt we should meet every week.
Some people were upset, but most responded with agreement. What we decided was that, to do
our job with excellence, we needed to meet more frequently. When you raise the bar for
your kids, they respond by valuing what they are doing. They buy into the group.
Think back to anything that meant anything to you growing up. The value of that activity
in your mind is directly related to how much you had to sacrifice for it. Incidentally,
this principle works for evil, too. Remember those cults with head shaving and drinking
poison. People respond to a challenge!
- Always relate success by telling stories and bragging on your
kids. Do not hide accomplishment. Anytime anyone does anything that helps us make
disciples of Jesus, I brag on them. One of the girls in our group is a recent convert who
loves to invite her friends. Everyone in ministry wants people like this. Here is the
success I want to brag on: everyone of the people she invited in the last 6 months
committed their lives to Christ! I track these things. Not only that, they are all
involved in our teams and help make the youth group successful at making disciples of
Jesus. I brag about that all the time. The kids in our group know what I value by the
stories I tell.
- Make a big deal out of salvation over and over again. Every
salvation brings us closer to fulfilling our mission as the body of Christ. Also, every
time someone turns from their sin to follow Jesus, our group gains momentum as a life
changing force. I make every student who gives their life to Christ stand up in front of
the group and I present them with a Bible. Everyone cheers when this happens. These kids
love to see people get saved partly because I talk about it all the time.
The list goes on. I always ask myself questions: "Would I
want to go to this group? Would I die for this cause?" There are people out there who
will perch up in a tree for a year to make a statement about saving the rainforests. Our
cause is the best cause in the universe, reconciling men to God. I believe that to
accomplish this, we must create an atmosphere of expectation in our groups.
photo-collage of Garrett's youth group]
26, and his wife Sandy live in Palm Desert, CA. Garrett holds a bachelor's degree from the
university of Arkansas. He is the youth pastor of the the youth
ministry at the Desert Springs Church.
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NEXT WAVE, January 1999.
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