On the axis between all fun and completely serious, every youth ministry has its place. No judgment here.
However, even when you’re (almost) completely on the ‘fun side’, there’s a fine line between fun and chaos. You can choose to go for fun and make it work. Especially when your main focus is on unchurched kids, you might use fun and games to build relationships. It can work.
Chaos never works.
So where is that line between fun and chaos exactly?
Respect vs Disrespect
The starting point has to be respect. Even when you have many teens showing up who don’t know you and vice versa, you have to respect them and they have to respect you. You can do pure fun and games, and still have the youth respect you. It’s all in your attitude.
Your house, your rules—that’s the starting point. Bring it however you want, depending on your context, but it had better be clear who’s in charge.
A biggie for instance is that they shut up when you talk. That’s something they know from school anyways, so enforcing that same rule (more a show of respect really) won’t surprise them. But if you don’t enforce it from day one, they’ll walk all over you.
Respect for each other is also something to focus on. Snide comments, a quick jab here and there, a disparaging remark—this is the slippery road towards bullying. Don’t allow it. Forbidding usually isn’t the most effective way; talking about what’s behind it and how much it hurts usually works better. That’s tough with kids you don’t know, so if your group has many new visitors, enforcing this rather strictly with the occasional conversation thrown in will work.
Respect is tough to ‘demand’—you have to earn it. Modeling respect by respecting your students and your volunteers is a great first step. Don’t forget to also coach your team to model respect as well. If the teens see them respect each other, it will show them how to treat others. Some of these teens have never seen respect modeled out consistently!
Rules vs Total Freedom
Fun does not mean absence of rules. On the contrary, games often work way better when you have rules. You can ruin even the coolest games by letting it turn into complete chaos!
I’ve said this many times before: teens don’t mind rules. They’re used to them. As long as they’re reasonable, consistent, and clear (communicate, communicate, communicate!), kids won’t object to rules. They’ll rebel every once in a while and of course they’ll try to bend them, break them, or go around them but hey: that’s why they’re teens! Your job is to stay the course and be consistent in enforcing the rules.
Here are some rules to consider:
- Leave your cell phones in a basket or somewhere else, so everyone is fully engaged.
- Everyone participates in a game (this obviously only works if you play games that are accessible and fun to almost all of your teens).
- You may want a language policy, especially when you’re working with unchurched kids. I’ve found that the s-word and the f-bomb are hard to weed out of their vocabulary, but you can certainly teach them to not say Jesus’ name in vain or use God’s name in a curse. My experience is that if you explain this (time and again for new visitors), they’ll respect it.
- A strict no tolerance policy for bullying or any physical violence.
Order vs Improv
This is a tricky one, since I’m so structured by nature and thus biased towards structure and order. Even if your youth group is mostly focused on fun and games, it may help to still have a structured outline for each evening or session.
Research shows that people like to know what to expect. If you freestyle it every time and basically improvise, teens never know what’s coming. That can make them more fidgety and prone to rebel or protest than when there’s a clear order to the program—even if the program is mostly games.
OK, back at you. Have you ever experienced fun turning into chaos? What happened? Any more tips and tools you’d like to add?