As a missionary, my family and I used to visit a lot of different churches. I would identify churches by their name or their pastor, but my young children would identify with different things. There was the church with the huge playground and another one that had candy in the foyer. However, even with these identifiers, what determined whether my kids wanted to go back to a certain church was how they were treated while they were there.
In John 13, Jesus tells His disciples He wants His followers to be known for their love for one another. He does not say, “They will know you are my disciples by how well you teach” or “By the fact that you always do the right thing.” No– He says, “They will know you are my disciples when you love one another.” What is your youth ministry known for? Great teaching? Excellent! Fun games? Great! How about the way you love one another?
Here are four practical ways that you can be more intentional about loving one another in your youth ministry:
- Prioritize unity – This is harder than it sounds. In our youth ministry, more than half of the students go to the same school. That is great– unless you are one of the ones who doesn’t go to that school. We talk a lot about including others, but it just doesn’t come naturally to most. Be observant of your atmosphere and encourage your students to reach outside of their circle. Be sure that small groups include a mix of kids from different schools and homeschool.
- Connect with students outside of your youth meeting – Do your students hear from you or their small group leader during the week? Just a simple text message, phone call, or even a card in the mail goes a long way in making your students feel loved. In the world we live in today, it is a good idea to connect with the parents to get their permission to reach out to their child in one of these ways.
- Small group outings – One of the best ways to build a loving atmosphere is to have your small groups spend time together outside of youth group. Gather at the leader’s house for dinner and a movie, go on a hike, or work on a project together. Last year (before COVID), one of our leaders would take the girls from her small group to cheer one another on at their basketball or soccer games. It was a great bonding time, and they had fun supporting each other.
- Be sure your adult leaders model it – In 23 years of ministry, I have been around a lot of different youth ministries. Without a doubt, the best youth ministries are led by leadership teams that love being together. When there is unity and love among the leaders, it creates an atmosphere that the students pick up on. Do stuff together as a leadership team that promotes unity.
Remember, Jesus says that we are to be known by our love. What can you do with your youth ministry so that others recognize your students and leaders by their love?
Brian has been in youth ministry for 23 years. He is passionate about communicating truth to young people and the leaders that work with them. Brian loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. He and his wife Lynn have three awesome teenagers and live in upstate, NY.