When I was a much younger individual, I was a part of the best club ever! What made it the best club ever, you ask? Here are a few of the elements that made it so stinking sweet:
Familiarity: I felt like Norm from the 80’s TV show Cheers. Everyone knew my name, and I knew theirs as well. Doesn’t it feel great to be known?
Code: We had our own special language (and no, it wasn’t Klingon or elvish). When we would talk amongst ourselves, we liked that we knew what we were talking about, even if outsiders thought we were a little weird. They were just jealous.
Program: Each time we met, we went through an elaborate ritual, and each one of us knew exactly what to do. We didn’t have a secret handshake…but in retrospect, we should have. Because secret handshakes are just cool!
Uniform: OK, there was a time in my life that I made fun of my brother for being a grown-up who wore a Boy Scout uniform, but when I was younger, I loved having a special uniform for our club meetings. It made me feel way cooler than those unlucky people with boring, plain clothes.
Events: Apart from our regular club meetings, we would occasionally hold special events to show the outsiders how cool our club was. Sometimes they would decide to join, but most of the time they didn’t. I think we intimidated them by our awesomeness.
What was the name of this best club ever?
My youth group.
In this club, everyone was very familiar with everyone else, which feels great. We had certain things we talked about, and we were always on the same wavelength. When someone would say, “I got saved,” everyone in the club knew exactly he meant and would celebrate. Every time we got together, we knew what was going to happen throughout the club meeting. While our attire may not be called a uniform in the classic sense, it was clear who knew what to wear and who didn’t. And we had all sorts of special events to expose people to our club and invite them to join us.
But what about the people who were not a part of the youth group clique? They probably thought we were a little weird, and having a Spooky Forest (we weren’t allowed to use the word ‘haunted’ back in the day) wasn’t going to change that. Besides, is holding special events to encourage growth what Jesus meant when He said, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”? Or did the disciples understand His words differently? Maybe they were on to something because it didn’t take a Zombie Apocalypse to get people saved; 3,000 people were saved after one, simple sermon.
Perhaps they recognized that Jesus didn’t die so we could be a part of a club; instead, He died, starting a movement to change the world, a movement He asks us to participate in.
Being in a club is fun. Participating in a world-changing movement is life-altering.
A couple of ways to know if your youth group is a club:
You have great attendance at your special events, but never see those first-timers again.
When you ask your students to identify friends who don’t follow Jesus, their eyes glaze over because all of their friends are already in the room.
When someone asks about the last time someone in your group committed their life to Jesus (there’s that special language again!), you look down hoping to avoid eye contact.
Pretty much everything that happens connected to your youth group happens within the four walls of the church.
So if our goal is not to create a super awesome club, but instead to jump into the movement Jesus started, what do we need to do?
1. (Sunday School answer alert!) Pray.
If we are not not praying and listening to what God has to say, we will rely on our efforts and awesomeness, which will result in a club-mentality. I set an alarm on my phone that rings every hour and I go for a short walk to pray about this and other areas of my ministry.
2. Ditch the models.
The temptation for those of us in youth work is to find a youth group that is rocking and rolling and do what they do. The problem is that is not your group and is not your students. What works for them has an incredibly good chance of failing for you. I was once really amped about bringing back the model from a huge church and transplanting it into our group, until I really examined our group and our culture and I realized that it wouldn’t work in our setting. So we did what worked for our students.
3. Grease the skids of belonging.
You will have first-timers. Make it very easy for them to know what’s going on and to get connected in a meaningful way. We greet all of our newcomers, give them a gift for coming, celebrate them, connect them with a regular attendee, and are working on a video and an info card to inform them about our group and meeting.
4. Get out.
I heard a statistic that said that the overwhelming majority of people will not go to your church, even if you invite them. So you have to find a way to go to them. Honestly, this is an area that I need to improve upon. I’d welcome any suggestions on how you do this effectively.
5. Teach evangelism.
Our students need to realize that invitation is only one of many evangelism styles, not the only one. They need to find out what theirs is and be spurred on to use it. I recently did a series on evangelism and parlayed it into taking student leaders to a student evangelism conference, and it was exciting to see our students catch the vision and run with it. To hear a teenager say, “I just want to tell everyone about Jesus” is what it’s all about.
Instead of being the grand poobah of a club, I encourage you to be a facilitator of the greatest movement the world has ever known.
Your turn: How are you helping? Can you help to change your church/youth group from a club mentality to a movement mentality?