BEFORE READING THIS POST MAKE SURE TO FIRST READ THROUGH EARNED LEADERSHIP PART I
Did you read it? Well, hurry up already!
Did you read it now? Okay, here we go…
Below is a brochure I created the first year I enacted my new leadership model.
This is the program that worked for us. I formed it around the culture that already existed in the church while adding in pieces of the new culture I wanted to introduce. It really was just a rebranding of what we already did, and that rebranding changed everything. It went from a struggle to get kids involved to an energizing inclusion of Youth Interns in the life of our church.
In the below brochure,
You'll see a defense of Youth Group's importance as well as its ability to help get you into college.
And you'll see that the program is 2-tiered, you can either be a Youth Leader or a Youth Intern.
The Youth Leader helps run the Youth Program.
The Youth Intern does all that plus helps with the wider church programming.
The two tiers create a sense of elitism, without an element of rejection
because each tier is self-selecting
in that it is 100% based on the amount of work you put into the program.
You have to earn the title by doing the work first.
And each grade has an increasing amount of responsibility
in order to create a sense of growth.
There is always another level to achieve, always something more to work towards.
But the reward (meaning the earned title Leader or Intern) should feel worth the amount of work involved.
Super important: the work required is all work that happens anyway.
Whether or not we get kids to sign up, our Deacons already recruit people to be Lay Readers.
This minimizes the extra amount of time I have to put into making this program happen.
It also takes out the desperation factor.
I am not desperate for Youth Interns because some adult in the church is going to do this work either way.
So whether we have one kid sign up or 25 kids, the program still works.
And most importantly, the leadership program invites these kids
-- who are technically adult members of our congregation via Confirmation --
it invites them into the life our church.
It not only teaches them leadership, specifically how to be leaders in a church context.
It's training them to understand what it takes to create a healthy Christian Community.
Also, incredibly important to the success of this program:
I sent the brochure to BOTH the kids AND the parents.
If the parents buy into the idea that this will teach their kids leadership AND will get them into college = Gold.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard this exact phrase now:
"At first, my parents made me come to Youth Group,
but now Youth Group is… like… part of who I am.
It's the best part of my week."
NOTE: this is obviously not a one-size-fits-all program. But I think the heart of it, the philosophy behind it, are applicable to any other similar community (meaning churches in towns that value higher education and Type-A work ethic).
Also Note: This is just a brochure, not a fully fleshed out account of the program. There are many details missing, and a number of changes have been made in the last 2 years as the program has evolved and I have made edits to improve its continued success (for example being flexible with the way kids earn their Intern "credits.")
Also Note: This is not the only programming we have for our high schoolers. This is on top of a very active Youth program. But this leadership program helped solidify a previously amorphous core group. Most of the kids were already sold on Youth Group, so they bought into this program pretty easily. Some kids, though, were on the periphery of Youth Group and this brought them more into the fold. Some kids, were on the periphery, and still are on the periphery.
Anyway, enough stalling. Here it is….
Of personal benefit to me - I used to be stuck for half an hour after every Youth Group Chill Night doing dishes by myself. Now, dishes are done in 5 minutes and I don't even have to touch a single dish (of course that depends on which Youth Leader is in charge of running Youth Group that night, sometimes I'm still scrubbing on my own). One mom picking up her kid remarked, "How on Earth did you get him to vacuum? I don't think he even knows where the vacuum is at our house."
VOTING - One of the additions I made was the ability to earn alternative Intern "Credits." For example, in January, I told the kids that anyone who attended the church's Annual Meeting could count it as a credit towards any Intern requirement. So, say a kid wasn't as excited to be a Lay Reader, or didn't like working with kids, they could count it as their reading or Sunday School requirement. It's funny. I could have offered kids money to come to Annual Meeting, and they wouldn't have even considered it. But offer them credit for a leadership program that helps get them into college, and they come running.
I had 6 high schoolers attending our run-of-the-mill, strictly-business-no-fluff-or-entertainment Annual Meeting. 6! Compared to the 0 who have ever attended an Annual Meeting in the history of the universe.
They kept checking with me, "Are you sure we're allowed to vote?" "YES! You were confirmed, weren't you? Get ready, here it comes!" It blew their minds that they were allowed to vote. They thought it was funny, almost like a joke they were pulling on the adults. But they were also kind of excited about it.
They spent the whole meeting on their phones of course. They seemed bored. I wasn't even sure they cared or noticed what was going on. But as soon as the meeting ended, all 6 of them assaulted me with sincere questions about the church budget. You heard me. Teenagers. Asking Questions. About the Church Budget. "Wait. So how much does the Youth Group get? What do we do with all that Outreach money? How much do people donate?"
ROLE MODELS - This past weekend I took 12 Freshmen on a Confirmation Retreat. It was only our second one ever. Last year's was a disaster for a variety of reasons. We just failed miserably. This year, I brought along 4 of our Interns, on the promise of offering multiple credits towards their internship. Thanks to them this was the best retreat I've ever led. They really helped set the tone, when to be silly, when to be serious, how to talk about faith. We even got into some heavy theological conversations that I haven't been able to broach with the older kids before, and never would have gotten into with the younger kids had it not been for the Interns raising interesting points and thought-provoking questions in teenager language. It was a whole new world thanks to this Intern program. It was church as it should.
As proof about the difference between last year without interns and this year with interns,
Last year we had only 25% of the class sign up, and it was like pulling teeth getting them to come. On the trip, there was lots of awkward silence between kids, and very little group bonding.
This year, we had 80% of the class and would have 95% if it weren't for a nasty stomach bug. Most telling, we had one kid skip a dress rehearsal not because we forced her to, but because she, an avid musician, preferred being at a Confirmation Retreat over being at a dress rehearsal the day before the concert! On the retreat, it felt like a family. During down time, the interns on their own initiative would invite the freshmen to play card games together, tell jokes together, sing songs together. It was unreal the change one year makes. We went from defeatist stereotype of church to vibrant, growing community in just a year.
Some Growing Pains:
SENIORS - I haven't really nailed down the magic combination for the Seniors. We still struggle with the typical Senior year attrition. Plus, if the reward is that you can put this on your transcript, there is no incentive for the seniors who are already in the process of doing college applications. I'm thinking about next year making the Senior Interns' job to run the intern program for the younger kids. Or maybe having the Senior Intern requirement just be joining one of the church committees. We'll see what happens.
ADULTS VOLUNTEERS - As always, my struggle in a town where just about everyone is an over-scheduled parent or is already serving on 5 different committees, is finding someone to help me run it. But that's our next step to making this a sustainable model: finding someone besides me to run it. I think it would also be cool to get someone who can hold actual sessions on Leadership Skills.
PASSING IT ON - The nice thing about Youth Groups is there is a built in turn over, so you always have the ability to remake your group dynamic in a way that you can't with the church as a whole. The worst thing about Youth Groups is there is a built in turn over, so you even when you feel like you've finally become the group you want to be, you still have fight backsliding, and you still have to catch the younger kids up to where the older kids have gotten, and you still have to train the incoming class. There is no such thing as coasting in Youth Ministry.
So, now you've seen it. You probably have some criticisms, or questions, or concerns, or thoughts like "But I've seen other churches do it this way." So how does this compare to other church's leadership structures? Why do I think this is such a revolutionary idea? I'll tell you next time… =)