Summer is on its way and it always brings up the inevitable issue of clothes. Or rather, lack thereof. Appropriate and modest clothing can be a bit of an issue in youth ministry. But is it wise to enforce a dress code in youth ministry and if so, what would it look like?
Let me start with describing my own experiences. Yes, we did have a dress code in my former youth ministry, but only for those students who were up on stage. We simply enforced the 4B’s rule: no breasts, butts, boxers and bellies visible. Easy to remember, works like a charm. Every now and then the worship leader had to remind someone of the rules, but all in all it functioned pretty well.
In other youth activities, it became an issue now and then. I can’t count the times I asked guys to pull up their pants because I really wasn’t all that interested in seeing their boxers…I mean, really? And of course the girls didn’t always hide their qualities so to speak. And let’s not forget that it’s not just about modesty. Certain brands or types of clothing are associated with lifestyles, political or religious convictions etc and can also become a problem. So yes, it has been an issue every now and then, one that we have talked about with the leaders and that we have talked about with the students.
Rules are okay
It is perfectly okay to create a dress code. Teens and students have to learn to live by rules and not just in youth ministry. And even if you don’t create a formal dress code, it’s good practice to talk with students that dress inappropriately on a incident-by-incident basis.
I love the way Tim Schmoyer formulated it in an old post of his on this subject: I want to create an environment where students’ attention is drawn to the Lord, so if someone’s inappropriate dress is severely hindering that, I’m going to address it just like I would if someone’s inappropriate behavior was having the same affect. Enough said.
Some things you could put in your dress code, beside the 4 B’s:
- no tank tops
- no spaghetti straps (no bra straps showing)
- for guys: t-shirt stays on
- girls: one piece bathing suits instead of bikini’s
- no hot pants or really short shorts
- no mini skirts
- no tight clothes
Explain the why
Students don’t automatically understand the reason behind certain rules, so make sure to explain it to them. You may think that it’s perfectly clear why modesty is good, but they don’t necessarily do.
A couple of years ago when thongs were hip, preferably combined with low cut jeans, there were some girls who dressed quite provocatively. One of them was in my small group and I took her aside. I explained to her that I felt her jeans and thong were immodest. At first, she was laughing and said that it was OK, everyone was wearing them and besides, what was the harm. I told her that she besides the fact that she was distracting then, she was also tempting boys, basically giving them a lot of visual stimulants. That stopped the laughter, she had never thought of it that way. When I explained that she could cause guys to sin sexually, she was shocked. It had never occurred to her.
Differentiate between churched and unchurched
Your regular kids should know the ‘rules’ and you can certainly talk to them if they don’t. But do realize that unchurched kids have no idea of what is proper and may have never considered such a thing as modesty. Don’t offend them or scare them away by enforcing the rules. Accept that they can’t obey rules they’ve never heard of. If someone is dressing really offensive, you can take them aside and lovingly address the issue…with the emphasis on lovingly.
Does your ministry have a dress code? What do you think of creating one? Share your thoughts and experiences!