Q: How can our church help teens to feel a part of the community and then help the rest of the congregation to realize that teens are indeed a part of that community?
A: What do hanging out at Starbucks, skating in the parking lot, going to games, or playing ping-pong have to do with ministry?
Relationships are valued and cherished in all of our lives. Sometimes they happen by accident; other times they are carefully thought out. We need them to survive.
Just about anything—a casual conversation, a mutual friend, the same hobby, or a shared experience—can act as a catalyst to spark a long-lasting friendship. You never know how a relationship will be formed.
We want everything about our youth ministry to be fuel for relationships, whether it is talking around a table at Starbucks, high-fiving after landing a jump at the skate park, lifting our voices together in worship, studying the Bible, or sinking that shot. We're living this life together, and we want our space, our congregation, to reflect that idea.
In youth ministry, as in life, relationships are the foundation of everything we do. As teenagers begin to develop their identity apart from their families, the relationships they establish and maintain become strong influences in their lives. When youth leaders and other adults from the church form relationships with students, over time the conversations deepen. Because of the trust and comfort found in these kinds of bonds, ministry takes place at a heart level.
What started at a ping-pong table continues when a student is having problems at home and we are able to listen and share advice. The skateboard is traded in for a set of car keys, and we are one of the first people a student takes for a ride. The laughter at Starbucks turns into a late night phone call, as a distraught student is comforted and encouraged by a caring adult. After the basketballs are put away, a student asks for a ride home and starts talking about God for the first time ever.
If we're in it long enough, that squirrely freshman—the one we seriously doubted would ever make it to 15—calls out of the blue at age 25. He remembers his teenage years and says that the youth group and the church were the first people to really believe in him. He says he has found the love of his life and asks you to marry them next June. At the close of the conversation, he says, "Hey, I've been practicing my ping-pong game. You still play?"
Douglas Smith is lead pastor at St. Louis, Missouri, Trinity Church of the Nazarene after having served in several churches as youth pastor.
Please note: This article was originally published in 2013. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.