Build Relationships by Diagraming Your Youth Program
Many youth workers serve small communities that may have only one school or school district in the immediate area. But if you live in a larger metropolitan area or in a small to mid-sized town with smaller rural schools in the area, chances are you have students who attend your church or youth group from different schools. Not only is this a nightmare for planning events (thank goodness our area schools have taken strides to keep everyone on the same page for major holidays like Spring Break, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), but it makes building relationships among students extremely challenging. For example, in our town, we have two AAA high schools (one that is quite a bit larger than the other), but in a 15-mile radius from our town, we have four other A and AA schools. Many of these students attend churches or youth groups in town. So if we have eight high school guys who regularly attend, they may be from four or five different schools. So when they get to youth group, they have only one or two friends that they know from school and maybe only 20 to 45 minutes to get to know some of the other kids when we aren't having Bible study or other structured activities. And that's in a best-case scenario when they take the time to actually attempt to get to know the other kids, assuming they are not shy, stuck up, or don't have some kind of social anxiety disorder.
The other day, I tried something new in an effort to better deal with our situation-I diagrammed our youth group. No, I didn't make a Venn diagram with overlapping circles or anything overly complicated. I just listed all the kids we had in our youth group who attend and divided them up by high school boys, high school girls, junior high boys, and junior high girls. Then within those four smaller groups, I color-coded each students name according to the school they attended. Well, in case you're wondering how it turned out, our relatively small group looked like a bowl of Skittles. Here is what this activity taught me.
1. It showed me that cliques are inevitable and are not necessarily a bad thing. When different schools are represented, students who go to the same school have something in common with one another and are part of each others' comfort zone.
2. It showed me where we need to focus on building relationships. In order for our group to be a cohesive unit, students have to spend time with one another outside of our church meetings and events. They need to have time to spend together being teenagers. This can even be done without a Bible study or any "spiritual" agenda (although spending time in fellowship with one another certainly is). They need to go eat together. They need to sleep over at each others houses and fall asleep at 3AM with an X-Box controller in their hands and their head in a half-eaten bowl of popcorn.
3. It showed me how radically different we need to approach our program. Many youth groups see the overall program from 7th-12th grade as the area of focus and we approach ministry to that group with a broad net that will connect with all of those students in some way. Some may be too deep for the 7th graders, and some may be too elementary for the 12th graders, but either way, those students will catch something that is relevant to their lives. But I realize that I should look at each of these smaller groups as a community within our group and find strategic ways to build relationships among those kids.
What obstacles have you come across in multi-school ministry? What things have you done to help overcome these obstacles?