How do we keep our youth group fresh? That’s what a youth leader asked me recently. It’s a well known problem, especially for those who’ve been doing it for a while.
You have found a format that works for your group, but after a while it becomes kind of…predictable. Everyone knows what’s coming next. The content is great, there’s nothing wrong with the music, or the discussions and yet…It feels done, old, boring.
So what do you do? Here are some suggestions for keeping your youth group fresh.
Change the Message Format
If there’s one element you should experiment with, it’s the message part. You can get so creative here—with a little preparation.
Instead of doing a 15-20 minute talk, split it up into multiple segments, with music, worship, or discussions in between (if the topic allows for it). I did this with a talk on the Tabernacle for instance and it went very well.
Do a self-study type of message instead of a ‘passive’ one. We handed out various assignments on a Psalm for instance and the students could choose which one to do. It ranged from writing your own Psalm, to doing a word study, writing a summary, listing characteristics of God, or meditating on a verse. It was a beautiful sight to see students spread out through the room, silently working on their Psalm.
If your group size allows it—I’d say the max would be about 40-50 here—make your message completely interactive. Instead of telling something, ask questions that lead students towards key points.
Or, even more scary, tell a story. It can be a Biblical story that you dramatize for full effect, or your own version of a parable. If Bible storying is something you’re interested in, check out Michael Novelli’s book on this topic called Shaped by the Story. For creating your own story, I recommend Jon Huckin’s book Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling. Both are incredibly scare and ‘messy’, but awesome to try.
Change the Order
As simple as it may sound, sometimes a simple change in order is enough to get out of a rut. If you always do worship before the message, why not do it after for a change? The same with games—though this can result in a completely different energy level.
If worship in whatever form is a standard part of your youth group, why not shake things up a bit here? We usually had a full band on stage, but also experimented with acoustic/unplugged. One retreat we went completely unplugged and it was one of our best retreats ever.
Another experiment was singing Psalm 119 in its entirety. It had just been released as part of a project in The Netherlands to translate all the Psalms into worship songs that were as close to the literal text as possible. So we sang 20 minutes of Psalm 119 and it was an experience I’ll never forget.
Have a Different Speaker
If you always have the same person or the same people speaking, invite an (external) speaker. A new voice can certainly liven things up.
Add Unexpected Elements
An interactive element where students can do something in response to what they’ve heard, seen, or experienced is also a great way to bring something fresh into the session. These often require some prep though, but it’s well worth the investment.
During a youth service that coincided with Yom Kippur, we talked about second chances—and then let students wash their hands in a ‘gold’ basin we created as a symbol for getting a second (and third, fourth, ec) chance with God. Elements like these definitely keep youth group fresh.
It doesn’t even have to be interactive though. As the opening of a service where we wanted to share the image of the church as the bride, we invited a recently married couple to walk down the aisle on the wedding march. The students never saw that one coming and it was a great surprising opening.
Change the Location
This one may be less easy to pull off, but you can even change the location every once in a while. In the summer, we’d have at least one of our teen gatherings on Sunday mornings outside—weather permitting of course. Or we’d do the youth service in the youth room instead of in the ‘big church’—which made it a bit cramped, but very cozy and intimate.
And if changing the location itself is not feasible, try setting the room up a different way. We’ve held services with people sitting n the floor instead of on chair for example!
These are just some suggestions, but I’m sure you can think of more. If you want these to be most effective, make sure they tie in with the theme of the session or service in some way. And, in case this wasn’t clear yet, most changes can’t be done on a whim, but need to be planned (well) in advance.
How are you keeping your youth group fresh? What are some experiments and practices that have worked well for you in the past?
p.s. If you have a question or issue you’d like to see answered, let me know!