I don’t believe any youth group can function well without rules. The only problem is that many youth groups don’t write them down and make them, well official. But unwritten rules aren’t really rules and you sure can’t enforce them very well…and rules you can’t enforce are absolutely pointless. So here are my thoughts on youth group rules.
Why your youth group needs rules
Rules bring clarity to all involved, be it parents, youth, volunteers, leaders, or church members. If you can hand everyone a copy of the rules that apply to them, there will never be any discussion about what’s allowed and what’s not (unless you’ve forgotten to mention something, in which case you could get very busy suddenly!) And contrary to what many may think, students don’t have a problem with rules. They have rules at school, when playing sports, at home (hopefully!), so it won’t be a surprise to them if there are rules at youth group too.
What your youth group needs rules about
Let’s start with this: you can’t out-rule everything. Try and use some common sense when you make the rules and suppress the urge to put every little thing into a rule. That being said, here are some issues that you may want to address in your rules:
PDA’s (public displays of affection): think of hugging, kissing, touching both between couples as between volunteers/leaders and students. A fairly common rule is the ‘side hug’ which says that volunteers and leaders shouldn’t give frontal hugs to students. I’m not sure that’s practical, but I appreciate the thought behind it.
Clothing: personally I’m a bit conflicted about a dress code because of the mixed signals this can send to girls especially, but they can prevent a lot of discussions about what’s ‘acceptable’ in clothing.
Trips and retreats: it may be wise to have all parents sign a consent form whenever you take their kids on a trip of retreat. Make sure to list the rules on the part of the consent form that stays with the parents. That way they can’t claim they didn’t know the rules. My advice is to ask the parents to discuss the rules with their kids themselves, have them take some responsibility in this area. In your rules, be especially clear which ‘offenses’ will result in being send home so parents and youth knows this up front.
Small group rules: think of things like confidentiality, respect in discussions, etc. Be sure to check out this post on small group rules.
User-rules: if your youth group owns or uses a building or room, you may want to hang some general rules there as well. Ours included the ban on illegal music, software and games(we had a computer and sound system), cleaning up afterwards and taking care of our stuff.
No-tolerance: declare a no-tolerance policy on issues like alcohol, drugs, weapons, violence, sexual misconduct, discrimination, etc.
Code of conduct: I advise you strongly to create a code of conduct for your leaders and volunteers, preferably together, so they know what is expected of them.
You may have the urge to outlaw all pranks your youth group could possibly pull, because we all know the stupid things youth can do. But you can’t outthink them in that area. In my experience a general rule like ‘use common sense’ or ‘don’t be stupid and don’t let others be stupid either’ goes a long way.
Come up with rules together
If your youth group doesn’t have formal rules yet, I suggest you come up with them together. If students have a chance to participate in the rule making, they’ll be far more likely to keep them. Just ask your youth what they think is reasonable and you’ll find they will come up with a lot of this stuff themselves and maybe even a few rules that might surprise you!
When you make your rules, don’t forget to think about consequences as well. What happens when youth breaks the rules once, twice, three times? Include that as well so as to avoid confusion.
Once you have your rules
Once you have written down the rules for your youth group, here are some things to remember:
- Communicate them well to all involved, each year again probably
- Have new leaders sign the code of conduct before they start, so there can be no issue whether or not they’ve received them
- Don’t forget to inform new kids who have entered your youth group halfway through the season
- It’s always a good idea to inform the senior pastor and possibly the board of the rules so they know what’s happening in your youth group
- Check the rules every year and update them when necessary
- And please, don’t forget to enforce them! Discuss this with your leaders and make clear what you expect of them in this. Do they need to help enforce the rules? Leave no room for confusion about this.
- Don’t make exceptions without a (public) explanation. If student X gets away with something, student Y will expect the same treatment!
Does your youth group have formal rules? Have you included any things I didn’t mention? How did you make them?
[Photo credit Strand Scheveningen: Ricardo Liberato, Flickr, Creative Commons]