Many of us are making our final plans for starting up our fall programming in our faith communities. Barbeques, picnics, bowling parties, ice cream socials, pizza night, and kick-off Sunday celebrations are all in the works and we are looking forward to the year ahead. In all of the excitement, it can be hard to remember that for many youth, there will be uneasiness, anxiety, and fear about the unknown. If a child has never been to youth ministry programs before, they may not know what to expect at all. If they have been, they may be wondering what will be different this year, will certain people come, will a different person talk to them, or what crazy stuff will the youth minister make us do this year. This kind of unknown, even if they have grown up in the church and have been excited, can make the first few months of the year so important.
To help ease the transition into the next year, create a new project for the youth to do right away. This can be as simple as creating a name mural on the wall of the youth room. Hang butcher paper up, and as the youth arrive, invite them to write their names up there and a few other random facts about themselves such as favorite ice cream, favorite movie, or a hope they have for this year. This automatically marks the space as theirs and gives them something to do as they wait for the program to start. If you have youth come in the following weeks that weren’t there that first week, invite them to put their name up as well.
As you are planning, keep in mind that we cannot assume that everyone in the room has been going to the church for years or that they are excited about being here. Try not to talk about “last year” or “the past” because for a good number of the youth in the room, they were not there last year or in the past. Stick to this year and what you are looking forward to or getting input from them on what they want to do in the upcoming year.
Find a new game or a new icebreaker so everyone is learning something new and they aren’t reminiscing about when they have done it before. This lessens the anxiety about “doing it right” because everyone is learning at the same time.
Pray together. Pray at the beginning of your time together, pray at the end of your time together. Invite them to pray for one another. Invite them to name their prayer requests out loud or put them in a prayer box. Framing your time together in prayer is one of the things that will remind them why they are there. Prayer centers all of us, calling us together as God’s children, to engage in God’s mission in the world.
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