Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Success in Youth Work Means Letting Go of Your Methods

Success in Youth Work Part 6

I have been a youth worker for a long time and through many different phases of life.  At each new phase it becomes necessary to stop, catch my breath and reevaluate why and how. 

The situation
I was a new part time youth pastor on my first youth group night.  After about half an hour of waiting I asked one of the kids when everyone was going to get there.  She replied “everyone IS here”.  There were six young people.  I realized that a couple things in that moment.  The first was that I should have asked a few more questions before committing to this job and secondly that this was going to be a lot more work than I originally planned.  I had expected to find a large group ready to take on a big community project, instead I realized I was going to have to build the large group first.  I started by volunteering in the school, meeting all the city officials that would talk to me and spending time where young people in the city were known to spend their time.  For the first time I experienced youth work beyond the walls of church and something clicked.

Why was I doing it?
I had come into this situation looking to build a successful project and instead I became overwhelmed with kids that just needed an adult who cared about them.  I got to know kids from all walks of life.  I didn’t wait for them to come to my group – I went to them.  My youth group of six started a club in the school where they were having 80 students twice a week coming out to discuss deep life and spiritual issues.  I was blown away.  I took away the model and things started to grow.  I was doing this because it was exciting.

How I would do it?
I started to think that my models were wrong.  So I would change things up.  Kids wanted to share their opinion when they were learning.  The wanted a chance to be heard and they wanted to be able to hang out.  They didn’t really care about the games they cared about friendship.  We changed youth group to a coffeshop format.  I would bring up a topic and discuss it around tables and on couches. 

Conclusion:
In this experience I genuinely thought that success was directly linked to innovation.  It was hard to argue with seeing as the group was growing fast with kids that would not normally step foot in a formalized program. 
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