In order to build a successful youth group, you need to develop a trusting community among your students. It might seem difficult to get to a point where everyone feels comfortable enough to share what’s going on in their lives, but if you set the proper foundation students will begin to open up as soon as they feel they are in a safe and confidential environment. This is the backbone to getting any student to grow in their faith. So how do I build up trust in a group in order to get them to grow?
Students need to feel that they’re in a safe environment
In our youth group, one of the steps we take to keep confidentiality is have everyone sign a covenant. They agree that whatever happens in the group, stays in the group. That way there’s never a worry that someone will hear an issue with their friend, take it to school, and spread it all around campus. If there were ever an issue with that agreement, it would need to be addressed with the group right away to keep things at a confidential level and to show the group how serious we are about confidentiality. Following these measures goes great lengths to helping students feel comfortable about talking openly with their peers.
As leaders, we need to be available for problem solving
Just because your youth group ends at 8:30, doesn’t mean you’re off the clock. If you want your students to be open about things in their lives, you need to make yourself available. Make it known that you’re available all the time, but set some ground rules. For instance, I don’t want them to call me at two in the morning to ask, “What times does group meet tomorrow?” Give students ways to access you. Give them your cell phone number, tell them to friend you on Facebook, and be ready to talk when the phone rings. This is not an interruption to your life; it’s a responsibility you’ve signed up for as a youth leader. One of the things we do with our small group students is to sit down and have a one-on-one dinner with them (or two on one if you have a co-leader). When you do a one-on-one with a student they tend to open up more than they do in a group. When you’re first building a relationship with your students, this is an excellent way to get to know them, and for them to get to know you.
When one person opens up, the rest will follow
Usually all it takes is one person to get real for the rest of the group to open up. When the group sees that someone is letting their guard down, usually the walls fall down around the others, and they begin to peel back the layers of their lives. Oftentimes, leaders sharing their life experiences is enough to get the ball rolling. If students aren’t naturally opening up, you can start the chain by getting real about your life. All it takes is one person to take the first step, and the rest will follow.
If you see a potential problem forming, don’t wait for it to get out of hand. Be proactive in addressing the situation so that it doesn’t get to a point of no return. It is much easier to approach a problem before it starts than after it has time to take its toll. It shows students that you care about them and are active in their lives if you know what is going on with them. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation – sometimes students are just too embarrassed to start it themselves.
Something that might seem trivial or minor to you can be a huge deal to them. As a student leader, being available to use your life knowledge and your experiences to help a student is one of the best ways to show them you care. Relating your experience and your solutions is a way that you can pass on knowledge and growth from generation to generation.
Matt Reynolds and Steven Orel are volunteer youth workers at Saddleback Church. They approach youth ministry from an older (Matt is 50+) and younger (Steven is maybe 20) perspectives. Look for lots more from them in the future – for now you can follow them on Twitter, too!