Creating unity in your youth group: is it possible?

I recently wrote a post on creating unity in your small group in which I shared some things you can do to promote unity in your small group. It was picked up by Church Leaders and Terrace Crawford promoted it with a tweet. That got a reaction from Paul Sheneman. His view: unity isn’t a technicality issue. And he’s right of course, unity isn’t something you can create by following certain steps. Or let me put it this way: following certain steps isn’t a guarantee for unity in your youth group. There’s is no five-step program that results in unity. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Is it possible to create unity in a youth group? (photo courtesy of Mattox via www.sxc.hu)

Why strive for unity?

Unity in our youth group is something we should strive for. Jesus Himself said it: our unity as Christians, our love for one another is the most powerful testimony we have (e.g. John 13:35, John 17:20-23). I’ve seen the truth of these words, when we had this kind of unity in my former youth group, we were a magnet for young people. They wanted to know what we had, they wanted to belong. Jesus was right (as always), unity draws people to God. So we should do everything we can to promote unity.

But unity doesn’t come easy in a youth group, it can be a real struggle to try and get teens or students to even respect each other, let alone love each other. That shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Let’s not forget that even Jesus’ disciples weren’t a perfect unity. Besides from the fact that one of them was able to betray Jesus without the others ever having a clue to what he was up to, they were also fighting among themselves about who was the most important. So much for brotherly love there. Yet what we read about the early church makes us long for the same kind of unity – and those were the very same disciples! They had learnt something along the way.

I believe that there are things we can do to promote unity in our small group and in our youth group as a whole. I’ve written about unity in small groups already and I’ll get deeper into things you can do to promote unity in your youth group as a whole in a next post. These ‘steps’ don’t guarantee success, but I believe that God will bless your efforts. It’s His will that your youth group is a unity, so any prayers on your part to that effect, He will answer.

A story about unity

For now, I just want to remind you that unity in a youth group is possible. I know, I’ve seen it happen. We had a youth group of about eighty students or so (16-23 years old) and we were doing okay. The youth ministry was growing, we were doing all kinds of new things like youth services and worship nights and stuff. It was exciting to see students get more interested about faith, get enthusiastic for youth group and church in general.

But we weren’t seeing much unity. The students had some friendships among each other, but there were many ‘groups’ within the youth group with some students being left out. We started praying for unity. We’d already seen unity happening in our own small group and we wanted to see this happen in the entire youth group. So we started doing a lot of stuff together, we tried to do some fun things and some serious things, things that had worked in our small group. And we saw some early results: a few new friendships growing that went across these ‘groups’ and a couple of left out students being included.

Then the dad of two of our students died completely unexpectedly, a few days before we had our annual weekend retreat. These two boys decided to go to the retreat nonetheless. What happened was nothing short of a miracle. The entire youth group surrounded them with love, compassion, and prayer. There were many tears that weekend, both boys cried a lot and it was heartbreaking to watch them grief. But their youth group members were there with them every step of the way.

There were countless hugs when needed, shoulders to cry on, there were hands to be held and tissues to be distributed. Everyone came together and stood as one. It was an awesome sight to see. At Saturday the two boys had to go back home for a few hours for the viewing and several of other small group members went with them, wanting to carry their load with them. And in that weekend, amidst all the grief, God created a unity in our youth group that lasted well beyond that weekend.

So yes, it is possible to have unity in your youth group. It’s even possible to do things that will promote it. You just need to realize that in the end, it’s God who does the part that we can’t do. We can only do so much to create unity, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I am convinced that God will bless our efforts, because He wants nothing more that to see us united in Christ.

Is your youth group experiencing unity? Can you think of factors that contributed? Or are your struggling in that area? What are the biggest challenges? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments!

Comments

  1. Justin says

    Great conversation starter. I don’t think there is a student ministry in America that will ever have to not deal with unity at some point. In our student ministry we have a large group of students that cone from the impoverished neighborhoods in our community. They ride our bus every week coming sometimes more faithfully than our “churched” kids. The divide I have seen is between this group and our students that have grown up in the church. We decided that in order to bring these two groups together to be the church as a whole we would do local missions projects getting churched and unchurched into the trenches serving and building the Kingdom. I’m pleased to say we are seeing great things happening! Serving together is showing them they have more in common than differences.

    • Rachel says

      Thanks for your comment Justin! I can imagine that creating unity is a challenge when you have two such very different groups within your ministry. But what a great idea to go at it purposefully and have them serve together! As a reaction on this post someone tweeted me an article with some research results on creating unity, which showed that unity will come when the group faces a challenge or problem that is bigger than their own differences. Very provoking thought, but it connect with what you are doing. I will definitely get deeper into this in a next post!

  2. says

    Rachel

    Thanks for the continued conversation regarding unity in the church. I do in fact believe that unity in the body of Christ is possible but that it can’t be created through technique or a how to guide. I also agree with you that the Christian life is about God’s activity and human responsibility. In other words, God gives us the ability and responsibility to participate in his activity in the world.

    Here is where I think that we diverge…

    Unity isn’t something that you clearly define. Your “story about unity” is an example of what I would call koinonia or radical fellowship and not necessarily unity. Your group may have been united in their bearing of one another’s burdens but that is not the same as Christian unity. I would say that scripture reveals that Christian unity occurs when a community of disciples are oriented around the mission of God (See John Franke’s artilce “The Many and the One” in Immerse Nov/Dec 2010). That means that the communities activities and prayers are focused on participating in God’s mission to redeem and reconcile the world in Christ. I think the first time we see this in the NT is post Pentecost where it is written that the ekklesia was “all in one accord.” Their actions of kerygma, koinonia, didache, diakonia, and liturgia were an outflow of the Spirit’s activity that oriented them toward God’s mission of redeeming and reconciling the world in Christ.

    This leads me to my second point of divergence from your stance on human agency and Christian unity. God does more than we do. I am willing to say that we (leaders, pastors, youth pastors, disciples of Christ, ect.) need to be faithful to learning and discerning a way of life in Christ. But that is all we can possibly do. We can promote a context where Christian unity is possible but we can not “create” Christian unity. I know that you use the langue of “promote” but you move in and out of “promote” and “create” language in such a way that it is hard for me to discern if you are saying that we do the work and God blesses it or God does the work and we are responding to his activity.

    I want to stress that God does the work and we respond to his activity. In microscopic view, God the Holy Spirit came upon them and created unity around the message and mission of Jesus Christ. They created the context where Christian unity is possible by obeying the Risen Christ. You and your youth created the possibility for koinonia by being with one another when death became a reality for two members of the community. However, God the Holy Spirit created koinonia on that retreat and it spilled out from there. So I praise God that your community experienced a fresh anointing of the Spirit in the midst of your mourning.

    Now let me get practical. I say we as disciples who are discipling others should focus on being faithful witnesses of the resurrected Messiah. Let’s focus on the mission of God by practicing the classical and contemporary spiritual disciplines in order to guide students into Christian formation for the mission of God. Let’s identify a tangible need in our community and discern how to be the Gospel of Christ. Let’s guard against those who would want to create disunity by placing the groups focus away from Christ even if it is some high goal like “unity.” Therefore, let’s talk about the techniques of faithfulness to God in Christ and put away our high estimations of human abilities for a high estimation of God’s abilities.

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