When I was growing up, going to church youth group activities was a normal and expected part of life. When I was in middle school and the first couple of years of high school, we were part of a small church and most of the youth leaders were volunteers. We had lots of fun, but also a fair amount of Bible study. During my last two years of high school, my family attended the much larger First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach. The youth program there was much larger and they had a full-time youth minister along with college students from Palm Beach Atlantic University helping out. Youth group was a great social time, and there were a number of kids who attended youth group even though their families weren’t otherwise involved in the church. This church’s youth group also had a stronger emphasis on Bible Study and missions. I was part of the youth choir and was part of one mission trip throughout Florida and the next year, a missions trip to the Bronx in New York City. I remember those years with great fondness, especially the adults who helped me grow in my faith at that time.
Fast forward 20+ years. As I have read more and more in the online homeschool community, I have found that not everyone supports church youth group programs. Or they choose not to have their children participate in them. It seems that there are two groups of people. One group is the Family Integrated Church group. From what I can tell, they believe that churches should be made up of families (often very patriarchal) and all activities should be family-centered and not age-segregated. Another group, from what I can tell in reading around the web, seems to want to make sure their kids aren’t negatively influenced by the non-Christian kids that youth group activities will attract.
I have to say I was pretty surprised when I started reading things to this effect. I had a great youth group experience growing up and have always expected that my kids would enjoy the same thing. The church that we’re a part of is in the process of hiring a new Youth Minister, and I hope that he can lead a group of people who can have a positive impact on my kids’ lives.
Let me address the issues of the “no youth group” folks and why I disagree with them. I have some sympathy for those people who are discouraged by so many activities being age-segregated. In fact, one of the reasons that we homeschool is that we want our kids to be comfortable with people of all ages, not just their peers. That being said, children are not just little adults – a Bible study targeted to adults may go completely over the head of children and may not have a similar application to teens. I appreciate the people in our church’s children’s ministry to work so hard to help children learn the Bible through Sunday School and AWANA.
One of the reasons that I want my middle schooler and high schooler to be involved in youth group activities is that I want them to have other adults in their lives and hear the perspective of other adults in Bible study. PWM and I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about scripture. Having other adults in the church who are passionate about working with these kids is truly a blessing. Kids also need other adults in their lives besides their parents – and I think they need to have time with these adults without their parents. This is part of the normal maturing of adolescents. They won’t always have Mom and Dad around, and they need to be comfortable talking to these other adults.
Some folks want their kids to avoid youth groups because there may be a large number of unchurched or nonChristian kids there. I believe that a church that is truly reaching out effectively to the community SHOULD have these kids at youth group! Not all kids are fortunate enough to be brought up in Christian homes. A solid youth group may be their only connection to the church (and, subsequently, to Christ) during their teen years. PWM and I pray that we are teaching our kids to be leaders and that they will be influencing other kids positively – at youth group or in their class at the public school. They need to be comfortable around kids who aren’t like them – and a youth group is a good place for this.
I can understand some parent’s concerns if the church’s youth group is simply a weeknight party with some extra parties thrown in. It’s nice to have a “safe” place for kids to hang out, but an effective youth group program is about more than hanging out. A good youth group is one where the kids who already know Jesus have the chance to learn more and to live out their faith, but also where kids who haven’t yet met Jesus get a chance to see what Christianity is all about. The adults involved must be passionate about loving Jesus and loving kids. They also need to be spiritually strong, because a lot of kids today show up at church with lots of baggage (at least, if the kids in my office when I was working are any indication!).
I have no intention of blindly sending my kids off to church for a couple of hours a week so I can get a break (although, the break is nice!). PWM and I are going ask lots of questions about what the kids do at youth group and are going to make sure we know this new Youth Minister. But, knowing the team that recruited this guy and knowing (and trusting) the leadership of our church, I’m pretty confident that my kids can have a positive experience with youth group.
What are your thoughts about youth groups? Have you or your kids had good or bad experiences with them?