How to Talk About Sex and Relationships [Part 1]

An article and study published by the Pew Research Center titled “Half of U.S. Christians say casual sex between consenting adults is sometimes or always acceptable” has once again been making the rounds in Christian circles. In some of these circles there is alarm and shock as people assumed Christians have been holding to a higher moral code. In others, people lament and are resigned to the fact it is true. Others include people who place blame upon the church, its teachings, and its leaders for projecting and proclaiming a distorted view of sex and relationships. None of these are necessarily helpful, but all of them carry a measure of truth.

We should be shocked if we have not heard, seen, or known of these statistics. We should lament this statistic and pray for others. We should call out false, corrupted, or distorted teachings and agendas. But the question before us is this: how do we respond? Do we simply proclaim the evils of this world? Do we sound the alarm bells and run to our bunkers? Do we begin a new movement similar to what was taught in the 90s and 2000s as a radical counter approach?

I don’t think any of those options work nor would they be beneficial in the immediate or long term. Instead, I would like to offer a different approach: lovingly teach godly principles as they pertain to relationships, identity, and sex. We should be teaching this in church as a whole, but let’s be honest, if it’s hard for a youth pastor to speak on sex to young people, imagine how hard it is for a senior pastor to do that from the pulpit. I am not saying that is an excuse, but it is a reality, and as such churches shy away from this conversation. But we as student workers have an immense privilege and obligation to share, guide, and love our students as we talk with them about tough topics, including sex and relationships. Over the next couple of weeks I want to share with you some ways to engage this conversation well.

Communicate what you are doing.

As you prepare to share and teach on this, it is highly important to communicate what, how, and why you are doing this. Creating and casting vision for a series on subject matter that is sensitive, has often been mishandled, and will have different value systems between families is one of the most important things you can do. But don’t simply communicate this to families, communicate with your superiors, your volunteers, and your students. Bringing others in will allow you to receive feedback and support as well as guidance. It will also help people to be prepared and ready to talk through sensitive topics.

Approach this conversation with love, grace, and truth.

This is not an easy conversation to initiate nor is it an easy conversation to be a part of. Many of us work with students who have been hurt or abused, students who have seen sex used in wrong ways, students who only know about sex through Hollywood or porn, or students who struggle with relationships because their attraction may not be what the Bible says it should be. Acknowledging these truths, we should approach this conversation with love, grace, and truth. We need to be sensitive to what people are dealing with or what they know in relation to this topic. Don’t laugh at “dumb questions,” and don’t roll your eyes when someone doesn’t understand a term. Seek to offer clarity and help your students understand why this conversation matters.

Be willing to acknowledge the difficulty with this topic.

As pastors and leaders we often try to have all the knowledge and understanding of a topic on which we are teaching. But with this topic there are so many levels, changes in terms, cultural understanding, and evolving education and understanding that we have to acknowledge we aren’t experts. Instead we must lean into the truth of God’s Word as we approach a sensitive topic with grace, love, and truth. We need to be willing to study, listen, and learn as we dig into and prepare for this conversation. This may also mean bringing in others who are experts and who are willing to help us share on the topic. Don’t be afraid to seek help so that you can better speak to your students and address their needs.

Understand this could be a trigger for certain people

We are in a time culturally and spiritually where we are acutely aware of sexual assault and the abuses of power and leadership. Culture and churches alike have experienced a rash of incidents over recent years, and the reality is that they are just the tip of the iceberg. In understanding this, we must acknowledge that there are students, leaders, and parents that have or currently are experiencing abuse or assault. Most studies would actually say that within every student ministry there is at least one victim of sexual assault or worse.

Because of this reality we must be sensitive and understanding in how we approach this conversation. Understand that some people may be working through horrible things and as such, consider having counselors available to talk with students or leaders. Also, whenever possible make both men and women available to talk as it is typically easier for people to talk with someone of the same gender.

Talk about the why.

So often “sex talks” focus on “do this, don’t do that.” But I would encourage us to focus more on the identity piece than the “rules.” When Jesus came to earth it wasn’t about meeting all the rules (in fact His responses to the rich young ruler and the Pharisees declare the exact opposite), it was about finding our identity in Him and allowing the transformation in our hearts to work outward, changing our actions and behaviors.

Students today want to know the “why” behind everything, including our stances on sex, relationships, and marriage. Don’t neglect this important piece in a sea of rules. Why does your church hold the view of sex that it does? Why does it hold the stance on marriage that it does? Where do we find clarity in Scripture and the life of Christ. Make it a point to delve into not just the “what” surrounding sex, but also the “why.”

Highlight that sex isn’t just about the physical action.

This is something I wish I had heard in youth group and, honestly, in our pre-marital counseling. Sex isn’t just about the physical action. It isn’t just about climax. It is about two people coming together in a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual way that is meant to help us understand our intimate relationship with God. Intimacy is more than just a physical action, it is about wholly knowing someone in a way no one else can. It is about understanding and loving someone so deeply that you experience something incredibly special together. As we understand the truth about sex, it helps us to understand the depth and meaning of it, and will allow for our hearts to truly be transformed.

Stop by next week as we continue looking at helpful tips for engaging this conversation.

Helping Families Win: Family Devotions

A new series we will be talking about periodically is called Helping Families Win. Part of our role in leading students includes shepherding families and helping them succeed as they seek to follow Jesus. This series will look at proactive ways we can challenge, encourage, and guide families in helpful ways as they pursue godly living. Today we are going to look at helping families engage in devotions together.

Finding time to be in God’s Word can be difficult for anyone. I think if we were honest with ourselves we would acknowledge that there are seasons when it is difficult for us as adults to spend time investing in our relationship with Jesus. Work, family, stuff at home, yard work, play-dates, being a chauffeur, and trying to get adequate rest seem to overwhelm all hours of our days. Even in this new season of life where many of us are at home and being forced to slow down, we may not have been able to engage as much as we would have liked in our spiritual walk.

It is no secret that our growth as a Christ follower is intrinsically dependent upon how much time we spend in community with Jesus. But what we don’t always realize is that our students see how we engage in our relationship with Jesus and it directly effects how they engage in their relationship with Him. Our students should witness us modeling a relationship with Jesus in how we act and speak, how often we read our Bibles, and by how we allow the truth of the Gospel to permeate our lives.

We also need to model studying God’s Word with our students to help them engage in God’s Word and apply it to their lives. But there is a big question surrounding that: How do we do that, and how do we do it well?

One way to do this would be to actively encourage families to engage in regular family devotions together and leverage it as an opportunity to draw closer together with each other and Jesus. Family devotions do not need to be every day, they don’t have to be boring or childish, and they certainly do not need to be hours long. But they should allow for thoughtful conversation, opportunities for everyone to share and lead, and time of just being loved and supported by those closest to you.

What I would like to do today is offer some helpful tools, resources, and methods for doing devotions as a family that you can apply to your own family and share with families within your ministry.

>> An easy way to encourage families to step into doing devotions is to simply text a devotion out to their family each day. For families who haven’t done devotions together before, this is an easy first step for them to try it out. In fact here are two pre-made texting devotional s you can use: Text Through the Bible and Textable Devotions. As you think through how to apply and use these, I want to offer a couple of suggestions:

  • If you are not currently doing family devotions, start small. Text these out each day and then choose one day a week to talk through them as a family. Try to keep it to a half hour to start, and then see if it develops into something bigger.
  • If you are doing family devotions or have done them, try to incorporate more times that you meet as a family. Try for 2-3 times a week but still keep it roughly half an hour to start and build on it from there.

>> Another great resource is this video by Parent Ministry that gives insight into how to help your students engage in God’s Word and develop healthy spiritual rhythms. It is a quick clip but dripping with truth and helpful ideas.

>> David R. Smith wrote an article on enhancing in-home devotions and he offers some very helpful tools and tips, as well as some resources for you and your family.

>> As families begin to pursue more intentional and engaging opportunities together, it is helpful to give them ways and methods for studying the Bible. We shouldn’t assume everyone knows how to do this, so giving resources and ideas on how to study the Bible will be helpful. A few Bible study methods that I find helpful are the O.I.A. Method, the Discovery Bible Study Method, and the SOAP Method. These three methods offer helpful ways to engage with Scripture and help families know how to ask questions as well.

>> Other helpful digital resources include biblegateway.com, www.bible.com, www.openbible.info/topics/, net.bible.org, and www.blueletterbible.org. These websites not only host the Bible in digital formats, but they also have additional resources like commentaries, Bible studies, cross references, maps, and much more. These are helpful in giving parents and families a more in-depth look at God’s Word and helpful insight for answering any questions that develop. It is also important to remember while we may think everyone knows about these websites, that isn’t the case. Families don’t always know about resources or which ones to trust, and by simply recommending them, we are helping share beneficial resources for their family.

Being intentional and pouring into the spiritual growth and development of your family is a priority that we must be running after. My prayer for you is that these resources help you and your family deepen your walk with Jesus, and that we develop families of disciplemakers who are radically changing the world for Jesus.

Looking Back While Looking Ahead

This past year has been incredibly different than any other year in ministry. It has been one that has had extreme highs and extreme lows. One that has caused us to ask many questions we had never asked before, and one that has forced us to look inward and take time to assess what really matters to us and to the ministries we oversee. Because of that we should be proactive and look back on this semester as we think through what next semester might look like.

Each year it is healthy to pause and reflect on the past year and 2020 should be one that we intentionally carve out time to self-evaluate and evaluate our ministry. As we are getting ready to head into the new year it would be beneficial to look at how you are doing as an individual and at how the ministry is doing over all. This is not meant to be critical, but to be a means of helping us see how we are doing and to meet needs or uncover issues that need to be addressed.

So let’s think through self-evaluation. These questions are meant to help you think through how you are doing and to allow you to see how you can grow and if needed, ask for help. Doing this now will allow you to better prepare for next year and all that it will bring.

How is my spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health?

These questions allow you to take an inward look at your heart and overall well-being. I would encourage you to rate them on a numeric scale (1-10) and to perhaps allow your spouse or close friend to speak into how you rated yourself. Taking inventory of how you are doing will allow you to see if you need to take time off, grow spiritually, or are doing well.

What do I need to ask for help with?

This is a great question to ask as this past year many of us have gotten busier and things got more complex. Many of us have taken on more responsibilities over the past year, and our workloads have increased in drastic ways. We do not need to stand by and just continue to become overwhelmed, instead it would be prudent to think through what you need help with. You can ask other staff members or look to have your volunteers step in and assist with things within the ministry.

What can I delegate?

Similar to the previous question, this one will allow you to think through tasks or parts of your job that perhaps can be delegated to those under your leadership. Tasks could include part of the teaching, leading small groups, choosing a study or curriculum, or having someone else do the filming for your online content. Finding areas you can delegate will allow for you to lead and serve better as you are prioritizing what you should be doing.

What should I change?

As we evaluate these areas of our lives, there may be things that surface that we need to change. That is a good thing and shouldn’t be something we should fear. Change is good and moves us to grow and mature.

What did I do well?

This is an important thing to consider. Too often over this last year we have felt beat down and like we had failed in some way. But the truth of the matter is you have succeeded and done things well. It is important to step back and see the high points and to feel encouraged. If you find yourself struggling to see these areas consider asking someone close to you who you know will tell you the truth and encourage you.

Who is speaking truth and support into my life?

I would say this is the greatest thing you could have right now. Many of us are feeling the weight and pressure of ministry during this season along with our own personal pressures. There is such a need for everyone to have people speaking love, truth, and support into each of our lives. I want to encourage you to find at least one or two people who you know and trust who can be that person for you.

It is also important for you to step back and think through your ministry over the past year as this will help you prepare for the coming year. Many of the above questions can be applied to a ministry perspective as well, but the questions below are ministry specific.

What do I need to ask for help with?

This past year there were many things that were added to our plates. Whether you became the impromptu tech person on staff, or if all your ministry went online, or if you had to completely change your programming, we have to admit while things changed we became burdened with more and more throughout 2020. Taking time to assess where you need help will allow you to better serve and prioritize what you need to be doing. If you are feeling overwhelmed in one area, that will bleed into all other aspects of your ministry and personal life. Being able to ask for help will give you opportunities to accomplish what you need to get done, and get the assistance you need.

What was a win?

As you think through this past year look at what was a win. Even though there were many changes, there were also many victories. It doesn’t matter how big or how small, a win is a win. And remembering and celebrating these wins are highly important as they will help direct you in thinking through what you can do next year. It will give you insight as to what to pursue and what you should prioritize.

Start, stop, and continue.

This is a great way to critically think through what your ministry is doing as you pose three questions: what should we start doing, what should we stop doing, and what should we continue doing? These questions will help you to assess and analyze what has been working and what hasn’t, and it will give you the opportunity to think through new things you could implement. This process is also a great time to bring in your key leaders as they will be able to provide valuable and helpful insight. This is a process that will be stretching and challenging but ultimately will lead you to proactively assess the ministry and make the necessary changes.

Fall and Winter Programming During COVID-19

This fall we had to implement a whole new style of programming for our student ministry. In years past we had gone the traditional route of meeting on Sundays and midweek. But as our state, like the rest of the world, grappled with how to handle the pandemic, it quickly became clear that our traditional methods would not be able to continue.

So we took a risk. After sifting through no less than 10 different plans, we finally settled on one we believed would work. We switched from meeting on-site to meeting as small groups in houses throughout our community, calling them Home Groups. We believed this would be something that would continue to champion our values and mission, and after much prayer we initiated this new phase. And honestly, it’s worked. We have seen steady numbers, consistent attendance, and a deepening of discipleship-oriented relationships.

In order to do this and do it well, we had multiple steps to consider. These steps weren’t all handled the best, and in hindsight some of these are things I wish I had done. The reason I want to share this now is because as we are entering cold and flu season, there is an increased chance of programming changing for many of us. So here are some steps to help you think through program changes.

Prayer, lots of prayer.

This may seem pretty obvious, but the truth is sometimes we can get stuck in planning mode. We run ahead when we believe we have found the perfect plan without seeking God’s wisdom and direction. And perhaps you did find the perfect plan, but did you stop to thank God? The reason I want to remind us to pray is because so often during this new stage of ministry in a pandemic, we can get hyper-focused on just getting ideas and content out as quickly as possible, and we don’t stop to consult with our God. Prayer is needed (perhaps even more so now than ever before), and without prayer even our greatest plans will not succeed. So remember to go before the throne often.

Over communication.

This is one I wish I had done better at. Looking back we communicated well with most of our church staff and with our volunteers, but I really wish we had done better at communicating with parents. I can make all the excuses I want like “we put up videos on social media,” or “we sent out emails,” and “it was in the newsletter.” But the reality is our people are so inundated with communication right now, we need to be able to find ways to clearly communicate with them. In looking back, one thing I would have done is host a parent forum of some type to articulate our plan and allow for questions. This would have helped to head off all the follow-up conversations I have been having two months into our new programming style. I also would have been clear and direct in explaining our decision(s) for why we chose this model. One of the reasons we moved to Home Groups was to help with mitigation should someone come down with COVID. I didn’t share this in the beginning, but in many follow-up conversations when I do share this, it helps parents understand and feel more at ease. So commit to communicating well with everyone in order to have a more seamless approach to however your ministry will look.

Team and parent buy-in.

This is huge and goes hand-in-hand with my prior point. If you are going to change how things look for your ministry, you need buy-in. When we shared what we were doing with our new fall plan with our leaders, we lost some because of the changes. We also had to answer a lot of questions from our team, which actually helped us shape how we were looking to implement it. By bringing our team into the conversation and listening to them, the majority of our group stayed with us and has excelled at our new model. The team’s buy-in has actually helped our Home Groups to grow and flourish.

With parents, I cannot express enough how important it is to have buy-in from them. I have talked with numerous parents over the past few months and as I explain the “why” behind what we are doing and the results we are seeing, parents begin to get excited and ask how they can help. This is where over-communicating is key, and will allow parents to know and understand, and then jump on board. Having parents who support your program and the changes to it will help it succeed.

Leadership approval.

This is one that sometimes we may forget in the rush to get things changed. Make sure that leadership knows what you are doing and approves of it. That will help with making sure that communication is consistent across the board, and that they support what you are doing. It can be easy to just implement a change, but if it doesn’t align with what church leadership is desiring as a whole, you may have to walk your plan back. And nothing deflates a program like multiple changes or things being undone. So bring leadership in, and make sure they are onboard with what you desire to implement.

Consistency and stability.

Consistency is something that people today are lacking. Students are facing constant change with how school is being done. Colleges are changing protocols and rules left and right. Families are trying to adapt to new ways of working from home and doing school at the same time. States are changing regulations all the time. Change is happening constantly and families are desperate for consistency and stability. So when you implement changes, look to have them be consistent for the long haul. Don’t change things weekly, don’t randomly insert a change of plans. Instead, look to provide a stable and consistent change that will help families and your program.

I would also encourage you to make sure that whatever you are implementing matches what the rest of the church is doing. For example, if you are not requiring masks for youth group but the church is for all other functions, this will simply add to confusion for families and the church. So make sure what you are implementing matches the overall plan and function of the church. We want to provide stability and consistency from all levels of our churches so our people know what to expect. This will also help to strengthen the church rather than add another area for there to be division.

Allow for flexibility.

I know this almost seems to go against what I was just saying about consistency and stability, but hear me out. We switched to a Home Group model of ministry in which our groups play games, fellowship, watch a teaching video, and then discuss it. We have afforded our leaders flexibility in how their group functions and in how they engage with the video. Some groups hate games, so instead they fellowship and share a meal. Some groups never use the study questions we provide because they know their group so well that they use their own questions. Other groups have asked if they could go out for ice cream afterward with parent approval. Allowing for this type of flexibility not only allows for there to be ongoing discipleship, but it also strengthens the group as a whole. This type of flexibility doesn’t change what we are doing but instead allows for groups to grow and for students to witness faith in action.

Incorporating Creativity into Student Ministry

As a creative, one of my favorite lesser-known passages of Scripture is Exodus 35:30-35. It says,

 Moses then said to the Israelites: “Look, the Lord has appointed by name Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every kind of craft to design artistic works in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut gemstones for mounting, and to carve wood for work in every kind of artistic craft. He has also given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all the work of a gem cutter; a designer; an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen; and a weaver. They can do every kind of craft and design artistic designs.”

What I love about this passage is how clearly it states that creativity is a gift from God. He is the one who gives creative ability, and it is something that can and should be used to worship Him.

As church leaders, we have the responsibility to enable those in our care to use their gifts, and to help lead others in worshiping God. One way we can do this is by leveraging the creative abilities of others, and intentionally incorporating creative elements into our services, resources, and activities. Whether it is our gifting or someone else’s, creativity can help draw our attention to God, and cause us to connect with Him in ways we couldn’t otherwise.

Student ministry is a perfect place to pursue creativity–young people have great ideas, and often think creatively about the world around them. Plus many are creatively gifted, and want to see how their passions and abilities are part of their faith. This fall is a great time to intentionally implement new creative elements in your ministry. Depending on your church’s plans and requirements in light of COVID-19, some ideas may be easier to incorporate than others, but we have included a “COVID alternative” for each suggestion.

Incorporate music.

Music is often the most creative interactive aspect of church services; it is also the thing most people think of when they hear the word “worship.” The artistry and creativity of music draws the mind toward God, through the arrangement of notes and selection of lyrics. And while it is something many are used to, it is still a creative element that can be incorporated into youth ministry.

Whether you have a playlist going during hang-outs and games, or you have a student-led worship band, or you host concerts and gigs, there are numerous ways to incorporate music. It can be used to instantly set the tone for a space or event, utilize the talents of your students, and help to direct attention to the appropriate focus or activity.

COVID alternative: Consider filming a socially-distanced worship set list, or creating one via Spotify or YouTube. Students can watch or listen and sing along alone or in small groups. You can also create playlists for them to listen to during the week, or during their devotional time. If your students are musically gifted, encourage them to share their covers or write original songs reflecting their relationship with God and the things He has been teaching them.

Embrace poetry and spoken word.

Poetry may seem like an art form from ancient times, but if you read Psalms, you know it can stand the test of the ages. Its modern-day equivalent, spoken word, can be equally as beautiful and powerful.

Spoken word can be used to melodically and artistically present a story or concept in a new way, which can help students to think deeply about the intersection of their life and faith. It can be featured before a talk, incorporated into your lesson, or showcased on an open mic night. Consider bringing in a guest artist or student to present their original pieces, or ask them to create one around a featured topic.

Both poetry and spoken word are elements of story telling, another creative medium that can be incorporated into student ministry. (For more on storytelling, check out this post.) Story telling can be personal, or it can also be presented in other forms, like video clips. Stories grab listeners’ attention and illustrate abstract concepts, which can lead to deeper understanding and retention.

COVID alternative: Share spoken word with your students via video or audio, whether you record it yourself, or find something online. If you have students who are interested in poetry or spoken word, encourage them to work on an original piece. If it’s something that can be shared with the group, ask them if they would be willing to record it, or if you can share it for them. If you have enough interest, consider hosting an open mic night via video chat, where students can share their piece and listen to what others have written.

Include arts and crafts.

There really is no limit to how you can incorporate arts and crafts into student ministry, the options are endless. Sensory activities can help students connect to spiritual concepts and engage other parts of their brains. However, there are some good starting points and things to consider before choosing an artsy activity. Some big questions to ask: is it childish, does it have a purpose, and does it allow for creative expression?

Students, especially high schoolers, want to be treated like adults. If the activity you have planned is something they do in the preschool class, your students will probably check out, and possibly feel insulted. Make sure a craft or art activity is something on their level and not overly juvenile. Also, the activity should tie into your lesson and have a purpose behind it, especially for the students who may want to participate, but aren’t artistically inclined. If they can’t draw a sheep, can they still accomplish something? For the student who is artistically inclined, can they use the activity to creatively express themselves, even if they think outside the box?

If you aren’t sure where to start, begin by talking with your students who are artistically-inclined. They may have some awesome ideas for creative projects you can implement in hang outs, or as part of your lessons. If you can’t think of a specific craft or project, start by providing blank paper and art supplies like markers, colored pencils, or gel pens. Another option is to invest in some adult coloring books, journals for your students, or scrapbooking supplies. If you have interest, you can plan a creative night where students can paint a canvas or complete a craft, enjoy a snack, and socialize.

COVID alternative: If you’re gathering digitally, plan a creative project students can do with things they have at home. Give them a heads-up beforehand so they can gather supplies. You can also encourage your students to make creative projects part of their personal devotional time. They can draw or write a response to what they read, or creatively letter a verse that stands out to them.

Don’t neglect aesthetics.

Decorating can be challenging if you’re utilizing a shared space, working with a limited budget, or restricted in what you’re allowed to do. But regardless, there are things you can do to make your space more aesthetically pleasing, which will help make your meetings inviting and appealing while encouraging creativity. Again, an important thing to keep in mind is that students want to be treated and feel like adults, so avoid things that feel overtly childish or juvenile.

A few things you can incorporate include:

  • Lighting. If you’re in a space with overhead florescent lighting, it can feel sterile and office-like. Switch things up with lamps, string lights, or up-lighting. You don’t need a laser light show to make the space feel more interesting or comfortable.
  • Seating. Switching up your seating options can help keep students’ attention, and make them more comfortable. Try sitting around round tables, providing cushions if you’re using the floor, or adding some comfy couches and chairs.
  • Decor. If you’re in a shared space, removable decor might be the easiest way to transform your space. Think about using wall art, lightweight furniture, faux plants and flowers, lights, and pop-up backdrops.
  • Paint. If you’re in your own space, a fresh coat of paint in an appealing, neutral tone can help make your space feel new and inviting. Try adding an accent wall in a bright color, chalkboard paint, modern design, or mural.
  • Graphics. Don’t forget that you can carry aesthetics through to your materials and display graphics. Choose artful photos, modern fonts, and colors that coordinate with your space. You can also create or refresh the logo for your ministry and feature it prominently in your meeting space.

Don’t be afraid to try new things; start small, and if they don’t work, you can change them. If you’re not sure what your students will like, form a decorating team to brainstorm ideas and contribute to setting up each week. Your students can help you keep things interesting and relevant while also providing manpower.

Also, set a budget for yourself or your students. You can shop yard sales and thrift stores, and keep an eye out for curbside finds. Some things can get an easy face lift with a coat of spray paint, or become a work of art with a simple DIY project.

COVID alternative: If you’re not meeting in person, you can still create an aesthetic wherever you film lessons and promos. Make your own back drop, frame the scene, or switch up filming locations. Also, you can use graphics and artistic imagery on social media, creating an aesthetic even if you’re not meeting together.

What have you done to encourage or incorporate creativity into student ministry?

Small Group Game Ideas

Last week we looked at socially distanced games for groups that can gather in larger numbers. These games can work for some ministries, but other youth groups have made the switch to meeting in smaller groups to accommodate state and federal guidelines.

With that being said, I would like to share some game ideas for smaller groups. Some of these are the same as last week because they can also be played in small groups with minor tweaking. This isn’t an all encompassing list, but merely an attempt to share some resources that we have found to be helpful and beneficial.

Zoom Games

The reality for many of our groups is that we will be meeting virtually at some point this coming semester. We don’t like to think that way, but it is better to be prepared for it than not. So I would encourage you to think through different Zoom Games that you can play. An easy option is utilizing PowerPoint style games that you can screen-share with a group. Another option is doing trivia over Zoom or a “Would You Rather” style game. The cool thing with all of these ideas is you don’t necessarily need to come up with them. Download Youth Ministry has an entire section on their website where you can purchase these games and many more. I would encourage you to start building up your resources now to prepare for the fall. And if you don’t end up meeting online, these games can transition easily to in-person gatherings as well.

Charades

Who doesn’t love a classic game of charades? The general idea is that you will have someone acting out an action, character, or activity that they have pulled from a hat. These can be pre-made by you and your volunteers or you can have students submit suggestions. There are lots of different ways to play Charades like as small groups guessing, or as a large group guessing, or even reverse charades where one person guesses while the whole group acts it out. Whichever one you choose, make sure to remind the people acting out that they can not make noise or they forfeit that round.

Apples to Apples

This is a classic party game and is fantastic for small groups. It does require you to purchase the card game, but it will provide lasting fun for your group. There are also many different editions that you can choose from depending on what your group will enjoy more.

The premise of the game is this: The judge picks a green apple card from the top of the stack, reads the word aloud, and places it face up on the table. Players (except the judge) quickly choose the red apple card from their hand that is best described by the word on the green apple card played by the judge. Players place these red apple cards face down on the table. The judge mixes the red apple cards so no one knows who played which card. The judge turns over each red apple card, reads it aloud, and then selects the one he or she thinks is best described by the word on the green apple card. The player of the selected red apple card is awarded the green apple card played by the judge.

Yard Games

Being able to gather outdoors while the weather is nice is a huge blessing in many ways. Games outdoors are a huge win and don’t need to be planned out in great detail because many of them can run themselves. Some great yard games include cornhole/bags, ladder ball, giant Jenga, badminton, socially distanced volleyball or basketball, Kan Jam, Frisbee, horseshoes, or Spikeball. All of these options allow for social distancing and a ton of fun.

Heads Up

If you are not familiar with Heads Up, you need to download it now and play it. It is a ton of fun and guaranteed to get your group laughing. Heads Up is an app that you can download, but it does cost money. However, there are multiple free versions that you can download as well including the Charades App, Guess Word! Fun Group Games, Charades – Heads Up, and Charades! Kids. I would just encourage you to try them out prior to the night-of.

The way this game works is someone holds the phone up to their head while the app is running and a random word or words will pop up on the screen. The guesser will need to guess the word(s) by the clues that the audience gives. Most apps will let you know how many you get right, and you can have a friendly competition among your group.

Costume Challenge

This is an activity that can be done both in-person and online. I have had many of my leaders host online costume parties, and they change the theme each week to make them more fun and engaging. You can also do this in person, and if you have to wear masks you could even see about having students tie the masks into their costumes.

Scavenger Hunts

Doing scavenger hunts is a really easy and fun way to get students involved and moving, and they can be done in person or digitally. If you are meeting at a home, you could give a list of objects and tasks to your small group to find or complete around the home and/or neighborhood. If you are doing it digitally, you could have them find different items around their house and the first to show it on screen wins the round. Last week we shared about a great website/app called Scavr that allows you to create scavenger hunts that utilize the app and all that data and points are accumulated through an online leader board.

Users must download the app and sign up in order to participate. They then create a team name and will be able to see the challenges that you have put into the game. The beauty of this app is that it tallies the results and shows a leader board throughout the event. It removes the headache of trying to create and tally everything on your own, and makes it really easy.

Trivia

Who doesn’t love a good trivia night? You can set this up for small groups or for individuals to compete. If you Google trivia questions, there are countless websites for you to choose from or you can pop on over to DYM and find a ton of games that you can plug and play for your group.

Message Bingo

This has recently been making the rounds in various online groups, but the overall gist is that you create a Bingo board with different things that will pop up throughout the message or the night. You can add squares like “the pastor said ‘umm'” or “everyone wore a mask” or “pop culture reference” or “bad joke by pastor.” You can have as much fun with this as possible, and you could even offer prizes as well. There are lots of online generators for Bingo cards, but this website offers up to 30 free printable cards that you can change the layout and design on.

The Hat Game

This is a really fun game to play with any size group, but in smaller groups you can play multiple rounds. The premise is fairly simple: there are three rounds of game-play and two teams. In the first round one player will draw pieces of paper out the hat and try to get their team members to guess what is written on them by only using Charades. The next round is the player tries to have their team guess using Pictionary, and the final round they can speak but not say the word or what it sounds like. Each round is timed and then you rotate teams.

The fun part about this game is you can switch up the categories, the method for sharing clues, the timing, and much more. It is a game you could continue to use no matter the circumstance, and each time it will be an entirely different game for your group. For more ideas and a more complete set of instructions, check out this website.

Xbox/Wii/Switch Games

I am not normally one to encourage playing video games, especially during youth group time. But there are games on Kinect, Wii and Wii U, and Nintendo Switch that are great group games to play because they are somewhat active and allow for four or more people to play. I will say this though: be cautious with what games you choose and make sure that they are games parents and your ministry approve of. You never want an activity to become a stumbling block.

Would You Rather

These are great conversation starters and allow for you to actively engage your students with both fun and serious questions. I would suggest setting ground rules for your group that include no making fun of someone’s answer, no course or crude joking, and always answer honestly. A couple of websites that I enjoy using include Conversation Starters World and Icebreaker Ideas. Both of them have solid ideas for questions with a broad range of topics and age ranges.

Highs and Lows

If you aren’t familiar with this idea, it is a great way to begin conversations within a small group. Many of my leaders use this each week because it gets students talking and engaging with the group. It can look different depending on your group and its dynamic, but the basic functionality is this: each student and leader will share anywhere from 1-3 high moments from the week and 1-3 low moments from the week. They can be funny or serious and they can lead to some fantastic laughs and amazing deep conversations.

House Party

House Party is an app that allows you to video chat and play games with your group. I would recommend utilizing the privacy settings and make your room locked so only certain participants are allowed in. But with this app you can play different games together as a group and video chat at the same time. It is very similar to Zoom but doesn’t require screen sharing for games. Everyone will need to create an account and have the app downloaded in order for this to work for your group. So make sure your students know to do that ahead of time.

House Party gives you different game options like Heads Up, Uno, Trivia, Quick Draw, and much more. It is worth downloading and giving it a test run before you implement this with your group so you know its inner workings and limitations.

What are some of your favorite small group games?

Socially Distanced Game Ideas

As many of us are looking at returning to some sort of programming soon, it is important to critically think through what activities and games we will be hosting. Because let’s face it, most of our games are not about social distancing. In order to provide a safe place for students and volunteers, it is important to think about what games will provide the most fun while still being safe.

The games below can be shaped to fit any style or size of youth ministry, but they are primarily for whole youth groups that are regathering. Next week, I will share some game and activity ideas for small groups as many youth ministries are moving toward that direction of ministry going forward. Before we get into the actual games, I wanted to share a few quick tips to make these games successful and safe.

  • Smile and have fun. The more excitement and fun you have, the more engaged your group will be.
  • Encourage social distancing. You don’t have to be an enforcer, but helpful and kind reminders will go a long way.
  • Provide hand sanitizer stations. If kids are touching one another or communal objects, have these areas for immediately after.
  • Encourage hand washing. Even with hand sanitizer, it is beneficial to wash often after activities and before eating.
  • Remind everyone about the rules. Whatever rules your state and church are following, make sure to encourage adherence to them for everyone’s safety.

Scavr

Scavr is a great new resource for creating scavenger hunts that are hosted through an online platform. Users must download the app and sign up in order to participate. They then create a team name and will be able to see the challenges that you have put into the game. The beauty of this app is that it tallies the results and shows a leader board throughout the event. It removes the headache of trying to create and tally everything on your own, and makes it really easy.

A scavenger hunt is also a great activity to socially distance in because you can send out small groups and ask them to maintain the six foot rule, which will be easier to follow in small groups. Just keep that in mind as you create the challenges (i.e. no human pyramids, which equals less people getting hurt).

The Floor is Lava

This is an old school game that has been having a recent resurgence. If you aren’t familiar with the rules the game is fairly simple: do not touch the ground or you are out. The object of the game can vary from completing tasks like collecting objects or moving a team to a safe zone, to completing an obstacle course, to a last person standing challenge. The game can be as creative as you can imagine and will allow for various people to play but also socially distance.

Up Front Games

Depending on the size of your group and the rules you need to follow these may have to be your go-to activity for the time being. These types of games could be trivia style, rap battles, PowerPoint games, or any of a number of Jimmy Fallon-inspired games. These can be done with as few or as many people as you would like, and they can be done in a safe manner as well.

Seated Basketball/Soccer/Football

This is a personal favorite of mine. These games take the traditional sports we love and turn them on their heads. You do not have to be super athletic to play these games because you are seated the entire time. Before you start the game, set up your playing area whether it is indoors or outdoors. Simply place chairs where players will sit the entire game or period and label which team they are for. Then have your students pick a chair and get ready to laugh.

The rules are the same for whatever the game is with one addition: students cannot move from their chair. Have leaders roaming to place the balls back in play when needed. You can also change up the rules and objectives to add another layer to the games as well.

Trivia Games

Who doesn’t love a good trivia night? You can set this up for small groups or for individuals to compete. If you Google trivia questions there are countless websites for you to choose from or you can pop on over to DYM and find a ton of games that you can plug and play for your group.

Hula Hoop Volleyball

This is an easy game to set up and run with. Simply set up a volleyball net, or something in place of it like a sheet on clothesline, and then place hula hoops on each side that are six feet apart. The rules for volleyball don’t change, except that students may not leave their hula hoop during the game unless it is to rotate spots during a change in servers.

Scattergories

This is a great game to play as a small or large group. If you are playing as a small group give everyone a score sheet and have them all compete against one another. You or a leader will assign a letter and have the students write words beginning with it.

If you have a larger group, consider setting this up tournament style. Have students all compete with same letter and then when time is up they will compete only against the other person at their table. The winner will advance to the next table, while the loser stays at the table. If there is a tie have them play Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide the victor. The person with the most wins at the end is the champion.

Cornhole/Bags Tournament

If you do not have a couple sets of these for your youth ministry, let me highly encourage you to get some. I have purchased these before and they have held up very nicely. The very nature of the game allows for socially distanced fun, and you can turn it into a tournament to decide who is the best cornhole player. You can also set up varying degrees of game play (i.e. closer or farther away) to make it more of a challenge for your students.

Charades

Who doesn’t love a classic game of charades? The general idea is that you will have someone acting out an action, character, or activity that they have pulled from a hat. These can be pre-made by you and your volunteers or you can have students submit them. There are lots of different ways to play Charades like as small groups guessing, or as a large group guessing, or even reverse charades where one person guesses while the whole group acts it out. Whichever one you choose, make sure to remind the people acting out that they can not make noise or they forfeit that round.

Pool Noodle Tag

This is a game that will require a little more prep but can be a lot of fun. The premise is you are playing tag, but the only way you can tag someone is with a pool noodle. Make sure you have ones that are close to six feet long and explain to your group that they must hold it at the back end and reach out the pool noodle to tag the other players. It may be helpful to demonstrate proper tagging, especially if you have some overly zealous young men like I do who like to swing the noodles as weapons.

Nerf Battle

I don’t know if your students are like mine, but mine love a good old fashioned Nerf Battle. Having it now will look different, but it is still a viable option. You can set rules to include being six feet apart and if you get too close, you are out or need to re-spawn. I would encourage not swapping weapons unless they are wiped down, and always have eye protection. This would actually be a great game to encourage using face shields in because there will be minimal push back (and eye protection).

What games are you doing as your youth group regathers?

How to Connect with Difficult Students

The truth is we have all had a student, or students, that have been difficult in our ministry. There have been students who have tried our patience, they have disrupted teaching time and small groups, they may have broken things, or they never follow the rules.

Sometimes our propensity can be to get upset with or about them. We start to think they don’t care about others or maybe their home lives are bad and that’s why they lash out. Or perhaps we may try to connect but we have gotten tired when there is no response… or at least the response we want.

Students who get classified as difficult or disruptive are often the students who desperately need to be cared for. There are times we may feel like we are not getting through to them, but we must continue to pursue them and love them. Ministry was never meant to be easy, and Jesus came for all people especially those society would rather have forgotten. So let us be people, ministers, who seek to reflect Jesus as we care well for those that others would dismiss.

Build relationships.

In all circumstances, relationships are key. When working with people, we shouldn’t just assume that we can jump into any moment and give profound advice that will be heeded and life changing. We wouldn’t want people doing that to us, so why should we do that with students?

My point is this: you can only speak into someone’s life when you understand what is happening in their life. Meaning, in order to speak truth to someone, you need to know them. And you get to know someone by building relationships with them.

Now, I get it, you may be reading this and saying, “But I have tried… for a long time! I have tried, and it isn’t working.” Well, how do you know it isn’t? How do you know that the moments you showed care and love toward a student it wasn’t received or just outright dismissed? It may have felt and seemed that way in the moment, but you do not know the impact it may have had on their heart.

Continue to pour into your students, seek them out, love on them, take them out for coffee, show up at their games and activities. As you invest in their lives, they will begin to let you in.

Get to know the family.

Family history and knowledge of present family relationships is huge in helping you to know and understand your students. It can be easy to assume that there are issues at home because a student acts out, but that isn’t always the case. It could be home life, or it could be issues stemming from other aspects of the student’s life that the parents were not aware of (i.e. bullying, difficulty in school, failed relationships, etc.).

As you get to know the family, it will allow for you to build connections and relationships that will help you better care for the student. This may not always be the case as there may be problems within the family or they may not be involved in the church and therefore do not want your help. But being able to ascertain and see what is happening will give you greater insight into how to love and care for your students.

Be willing to listen.

This is huge for anyone, but especially for students. Students who often times are classified as difficult really feel they have not been heard. They believe they have been judged, marginalized, and profiled, and in many cases they have been. Let me encourage you to simply stop and listen to their stories. Hear their hearts. Acknowledge their hurt. In doing this you not only validate them, but you can help them to know they belong. As a student begins to know they have a place they begin to trust more and you will see headway happen.

Go to where they are.

We can easily do this for the students who we enjoy being around but when it comes to difficult students we don’t always make the extra effort. But let me encourage you to really lean into this. Go to their jobs, their games, the activities they are involved in. I love showing up at a restaurant or ice cream place where a student works. I get to see them, talk with them, and value them. Students who are struggling will see you making an effort, and though they may not say it or show it, they are glad you are there. These moments are huge in connecting with difficult students.

Meet them where they are at.

Here’s the thing with students who are struggling: they aren’t like everyone else. They may be angry or withdrawn. They will try to push you away. They won’t want to engage. But put yourself in their shoes: how would you want people to respond to you when you are at a low point? Do you want them to meet you there or walk away? Be willing to have hard conversations, be willing to listen, and be willing to love students even when they aren’t the clean cut Christians.

Know their history.

As you get to know your students, you will begin to know their history. They may not offer it up in one fell swoop, but they may drop hints along the way. Be listening for them, and be willing to connect the dots in later conversations. If they keep bringing up a certain event or person, pry into that by acknowledging they have talked about it. By actively listening and engaging with them, you will begin to know more about them. This will then help you in thinking through how to best minister to and care for them.

Stand up for them.

I am not saying to justify their attitudes, disruptions, or flat out misbehavior. But often times these students will be mocked, laughed at, and talked about by others. Shut that stuff down. Don’t allow for that to go on because it tells the one student that they don’t matter and that you don’t care, and it allows for the other students to engage in sinful behavior like gossip and slander.

By advocating for them, you are showing the student that your actions and words match: you truly care about and love them. Be for all students and look to help them grow as you minister to them.

I know in reading this you may still be thinking “this won’t work.” I get that and I hear you. But as someone who was one of those students, let me say this: it does work. It took my youth leaders over four years to break through my hard shell. But when they finally did, they were the people I trusted because I knew they loved and cared for me in ways no one else did. They didn’t give up, they didn’t dismiss me. They loved me and pursued me and are a huge part to why I am in ministry today. So continue to pursue your difficult students. Love them well and point them to Jesus. You never know how God will use you in their lives.

How have you reached difficult students in your ministry?

Students and Identity: Helpful Tips to Begin the Conversation

I am an athlete. I’m in orchestra. I am a straight-A student. I am the middle child. I’m gay. I am a hard worker. I am kind. I’m straight. I live in the nice part of town. I have 1,598 Instagram followers.

These are just a few of the phrases that students use to identify who they are. They can range from physical characteristics, to gender and sexuality, to academic performance, to social media influence, and beyond. Students–and arguably our entire society–are basing their identity in things, characteristics, and formulas that are ever changing and do not actually define who they are.

As ministry leaders we have an obligation to help shape, prepare, and guide our students in a biblical worldview and understanding of identity. If you find yourself asking when should we start, or is this child old enough, the answers are “now” and “yes.” Our students are being presented with radical identity issues even before kindergarten and we must train them from the youngest of ages on who they are in Christ so it can shape their worldview and allow for them to reach an ever changing culture for Jesus.

But the questions are what do we do and how do we do it? I want to provide a few quick notes, and then address these questions below. These notes and points can easily be reproduced to send to parents to help them have these conversations with their students. With families being at home more now then ever before, the opportunity is perfect for families to have these transformative conversations.

A few of quick notes:

  1. Know this isn’t a one-off conversation. Don’t think this can be relegated to a single talk with students at youth group or over text. This is an ongoing conversation.
  2. Understand that older students can still have these conversations. It is better to start late than not at all.
  3. Be authentic and honest with your students, and be willing to listen. We must understand that we are to be the voice of truth, peace, and calm in their lives as we represent Jesus. Listen to their push-back and questions, don’t respond with “Because I said so,” point them to the truth, and affirm them for wanting to make their faith their own.

So what do we do? How do we actually engage with this conversation?

Present and represent the biblical model of identity to our families.

We must start by understanding that we are broken and sinful people. Look back at the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, and look at how humankind messed up, lied to God, tried to get out of the situation, and God offered forgiveness. In doing this, it sets the tone for our foundational relationship with Jesus. In Genesis 3, God set forgiveness, grace, and redemption in motion to help us better understand the need for a Savior and a relationship with Him. This is a great starting point to highlight where our identity lies.

Show students that their identity is rooted in Christ and not in any other identifying characteristic or trait the world gives to us.

This is not an attempt to alienate ourselves from the world, rather it allows for there to be freedom for us to live as new creations identified by Christ and Christ alone. 1 Peter 2:9 describes who we are in Christ and it has nothing to do with academic performance, athletic prowess, social status, the amount of social media followers we have, or the beauty standards of society. Instead, it radically alters how we view ourselves.

This passage, and many others, allow for you to speak truth into your students and point them toward the understanding that all the burdens society places on them are not their’s to carry. Instead, when they find their identity in Christ it brings wholeness, freedom, and peace.  

We do this by engaging in loving and grace-filled conversations, by pointing our students to truth, by continuing to invest in their lives, and by modeling Jesus to them.

This isn’t a foolproof model. There isn’t one. There will be hard conversations, tears shed, and hurt feelings. But in all things we model Christ, and just as God asked hard questions, pointed out truth, forgave and restored in Genesis 3, that is our model.              

Below are some helpful resources for you to utilize in your ministry. You could share these with your leaders, email them to families, use them to host a Zoom conversation with parents, or simply have them as resource to call on when needed.

How have you talked about identity with your students? What has worked for you?

Caring for High School and College Seniors During COVID-19

While we are all attempting to navigate this new phase of life in which we find ourselves, for high school and college seniors it is especially difficult. All students are missing out on the same things, but for seniors, many rites of passage and coming-of-age events have been torn from their grasp.

Seniors are dealing with proms being cancelled, musicals being postponed, graduations being suspended or moved online, not seeing their friends, and missing out on all the things we took for granted just over a month ago. NBC shared an article that highlights how seniors are feeling and attempting to navigate this period of loss. They feel they are losing their friends, their education, and part of their identity as they cannot engage in the normal social protocols that surround senior year.

Our seniors are hurting and grieving as they experience loss at an entirely new level. During this time we can dial in and look to love, care for, and encourage our seniors. But how do we go about doing that? I want to share with you five ways that we can practically engage our seniors while we are home together. These ideas can be implemented through your ministry or passed along to parents to implement with their senior.

1. Pray for them.

This is huge and cannot be overstated. Praying for our students as a whole is essential, but praying for our seniors who are struggling in unique ways is extremely important. Seniors are walking through loss, questioning why things happen, asking if anyone cares, and wondering if God is in control. To be able to pray for our seniors is a privilege and allows us to go before God on their behalf. Pray for their hurts and loss, pray for them to be encouraged, pray for their identity, and pray for their future. May this time lead them into even deeper relationships with Jesus that will shape their lives going forward.

2. Allow them be heard and grieve.

There is a huge sense of loss right now for seniors and they are grieving. They are looking for an outlet for their emotions and feelings, but sometimes bottle them up because they don’t know how their response will be received. Be willing to let them share without judgement. Let their pain, anger, frustration, and sadness be vocalized. Here are a few ways to help students grieve:

  • Give them a safe space to share their emotions at their pace.
  • Listen carefully and respond appropriately – you are not meant to be the fixer but instead a supporter during this time.
  • Don’t hold too tightly to responses that are out of character.
  • Don’t minimize their feelings.
  • Love and champion them during this time.

3. Encourage connectivity.

This may seem a bit odd at first. How do we do this in a world of social distancing? But what we must remember is students are not just grieving loss of graduation and prom, but friendships and community as well. It is important that we help our students connect with their friends during this time, and we must understand that community will look different.

Most, if not all, of community is taking place digitally as a result of Covid-19. Encourage your senior to connect with friends through calls, FaceTime, group chats, and whatever other forums they use. Another huge aspect would be to make sure they are connecting with their youth group leaders and small groups. Youth leaders can set up various ways to communicate and even short conversations help a student to know they are loved and valued.

4. Pour into their lives.

Isolation is a big deal for all of us, but especially for seniors. They need people encouraging and loving them. Encourage parents especially to make the most of this time to grow closer to their seniors and be present with them. Parents can focus on helping them to grow as an adult, teach them practical skill sets, spend time hanging out together, and help them grow spiritually. We have been given an opportunity to engage with our students in new ways; let’s make the most of the time we have. Two questions to give to parents to help them think through how to do this are:

  • What would I want to share with my senior before they leave for college?
  • What is something that if my senior were in college now, I would have wanted to share with them before they left?

5. Celebrate milestones.

Just because things may have gotten cancelled or postponed, doesn’t mean that seniors cannot be celebrated or make memories. What if you took the moments they were going to have and made them happen in a creative and unique way? It will not be the same, but it will show your senior that they are not forgotten and that they are loved deeply. Here are a few ideas that you and parents could implement or use as a creative jump-start:

  • If commencement gets cancelled, consider hosting an online one for your senior and their friends. Connect with other families and decorate your homes for the commencement. Give each senior an opportunity to share from the “podium” and allow for a parent or two to share advice. Then call each name and have the student receive their diploma from their families. Another added sentimental touch could be having each family member write letters to their senior.
  • If prom gets cancelled consider hosting a mobile prom. Have your senior and their friend group all get ready for prom in what they would have worn. Girls could even get ready together over virtual platforms. Then have everyone get in decorated vehicles and drive around the neighborhood together playing some of their favorite songs. A cool way to have everyone listen to the same song is create a Spotify playlist and start it at the same time in each car. See if you can get your neighbors to come out and cheer for them as they go by. Consider having flowers for all the girls at the end of the parade and boutonnieres for the guys, and have them paired with cards from family and friends.  
  • Have a card shower for your seniors. Put out a call to all your friends, family members, church family, and neighbors asking them to write cards of encouragement to your senior. These can have fun memories, encouraging Scriptures, tips for the future, or whatever else you think will brighten their day. Give a deadline for the cards, and then host a graduation celebration for your senior where there is cake, balloons, gifts, and the cards.

How have you been caring for your seniors?