Are fun and spiritual depth at odds?

It can feel that way sometimes. It can be perceived that we are either deep or fun, but not both. And I don’t want that to be our reputation. No way.

I had the chance to talk about this on the YM Answers podcast last week. I hope you’ll check it out! But until you’ve got a minute for that, here’s a bit of my journey regarding the question and also a solution that worked for us in our youth ministry.

Is your youth group too much fun?

Never.

Your youth group can never be too much fun.

I repeat, your youth group can never be too much fun.

At the same time, your youth group can never be too intentional about growing closer to God & each other.

I realize this puts us all in a bit of a situation but nothing a little creativity and prayer can’t fix.

A few years ago I decided to switch up the order of things in our youth ministry because the model I was following wasn’t giving me the results I wanted.

I attended a seminar at a Youth Specialties conference years ago about how to lead worship. Chris Tomlin was presenting. He knows a little bit about it. No, I don’t sing or even pretend to sing. I whisper sing (because it’s better for humanity). But, I am intuitively drawn to learning about everything that doesn’t apply to my current situation. Not sure where this came from or why. But I love to learn about other peoples challenges and areas of expertise. I feel like it gets me out of all sorts of mind traps. I will never be the person in the room who is stuck. If I have a problem, I’ll figure out what a rocket engineer would do, learn the rubric behind their reasoning, apply it to my current situation, then see what happens. Strangely, it’s worked for me. Back to Chris.

The bottom line–the lesson I learned in the workshop in Charlotte North Carolina that year was this:

“You’ve got to let a song breathe.”

That means, if something is working while you’re leading, then you should be flexible enough to stay there for longer or to move on sooner.

This meant that having a youth program where we do what we normally do was too rigid.

Typical Youth Group Environment

  • Play Walk-In Music / Organize Chaos (10 minutes)
  • Say Hello (2 minutes)
  • Play a fun icebreaker game (5 minutes)
  • Play an embarrassing upfront game (5 minutes)
  • Sing 1-3 songs depending on who squirrely the room is (10 minutes)
  • Talk and Teach (15-25 minutes)
  • Sing another song maybe (3 minutes)
  • Pray (1 minute or 10 depending on how everyone’s been acting the last 45 minutes)
  • Attend small groups on another day of the week

I saw a few things happening.

  1. Moments didn’t have time to breathe. When kids felt God’s Spirit, or needed more time to respond it was already time to leave. I had kids who wanted more time to pray.
  2. We dippped into everything for a few minutes but didn’t dig into anything for longer more impacting amounts of time.
  3. Three minutes of fun isn’t enough.
  4. Three minutes of prayer isn’t enough.
  5. Modeling teaching and singing as the only ways to practice spirituality isn’t enough. Kids need more. They’re wired to feel, experience, and express. I wasn’t seeing enough spaces to do that.

So, I applied the rule of worship to our youth ministry. (Thank you Chris Tomlin)

We asked:

How do we give significant moments a chance to breathe when they need to breathe? How do I customize our youth ministry in a way that makes it malleable for us as leaders? When we see that something is needed more, how do we change the pattern?

I decided to try a rotation approach that would give us a better feel for whole youth ministry. Where celebration, compassion, community are working together and being emphasized in greater more impacting moments.

Here’s a sample of what our team implemented.

Wednesday nights would have a program, adjusted to make more time at the back end, with a rotating emphasis each week. We would still do the program like you’ve read above but we might shrink the game to 1 or 2 minutes if we’re planning on playing games after for 30. We might add songs and cut talk time. We might make the message longer or shorter if small groups need extra time. I cut my talk down to 10-15 minutes and began relying on our small group leaders to cultivate community and to become spiritual guides  and fun captains for the kids in their circle.

Shortened Youth Min Program (45-60 minutes)

Rotation Program (30-45 minutes)

  • Week 1 – Small Groups
  • Week 2- Games (30 minutes of insanity)
  • Week 3- Small Groups
  • Week 4 – Spiritual Formation or Prayer Spaces
  • Week 5 – Small Groups

For us, we’d physically transition to another room or space. But if you’ve only got one room to work with, I could still see this working for you with some help and creativity from your leaders.

Everything we did was led, organized, and fueled by our small group leaders. This is how we let things breathe. Some weeks we’d change it up and decide to do another week of small groups. Some months we’d establish two fun nights instead of having just one. We’d circle up as leaders and we’d pray. We’d ask, what makes sense? When was the last time they really connected with God in silence or in creativity. The school year is unpredictable. Life is unpredictable. Like the weeks when a teenager dies and your entire group is mourning. It gave us an ability to respond and adjust in the moment. It normalized flexibility.

It means being in the moment of your ministry, listening, and not being afraid of trying something new.

How are things working for you? Is there space for things to breathe? Are you having fun? Are you growing deep.

All of it is possible.

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