Summer is on its way and it always brings up the inevitable issue of clothes. Or rather, lack thereof. Appropriate 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, how do you go about creating a dress code for your youth ministry?
The 4B rule
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 or youth group rules in general by the way. 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.
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. That same loving approach is crucial for your talks with churched kids by the way. While I have no problem with rules, I do want to stress the importance of a non-judgmental attitude.
What to put in a dress code
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 (although personally, I’m not a fan of this one)
- no hot pants or really short shorts
- no mini skirts
- no tight clothes
Remember however that a dress code has to fir your youth ministry and culture…and the weather. You can’t enforce the same ‘rules’ everywhere, regardless of the type of youth ministry (urban or rural, all girls/boys or mixed, California or Maine, all churched or very missionary, etc.)
Explain the why
Students don’t automatically understand the reason behind certain rules, so make sure to explain it to them. If they know the ‘why’ of rules, they’re far more likely to keep them. You may think that it’s perfectly clear why modesty is good, but they don’t necessarily do. But please, let’s not overreact…or totally creep the girls out, by suggesting their ‘improper’ clothing may lead male leaders to ‘have fantasies about them’ (yup, I’ve heard than more than once – and it did gross the girls out!). It may be true, but that’s not a conversation you can have without a much, much bigger context. Especially not with unchurched students.
The ‘how’ matters
Don’t just unilaterally decide on a dress code and enforce it. Talk about it with the students and give them an opportunity to weigh in. It’ll help acceptance of the dress code and give you an important opportunity for relationship building. Believe me, students often care more about the ‘how’ of the rules than about the rules themselves.
If you want to know more about youth group rules, check out the ebook I wrote on this topic. It’s free if you sign up for my weekly newsletter, which brings the best youth ministry posts and resources into you inbox. If you are a subscriber already and didn’t get the ebook, just comment with a legit email address and I’ll send you the ebook for free!
Does your ministry have a dress code? What do you think of creating one? Share your thoughts and experiences!