Our youth program for senior high students has undergone a renovation as valuable and as transformative as our church construction project this year. After a decade of discernment and data analysis, the UUA has grouped youth ministry with young adult ministry at the department level, and is sharing a wealth of resources and energy to help churches create programs that succeed. Read more about the UUA’s suggestions.
The “youth empowerment model” that has been the UUA’s recommended program for youth for many years, too often meant that some very focused youth thrived while others felt left out, and the emphasis on that word empowerment too often meant a lack of integration with the larger church community. As such, youth group members often never made connections to the church and had no or little experience with being in worship, leadership roles in multi-age congregational groups or events, and few meaningful relationships with anyone not their age. Youth groups at their worst could be cliquish or go rogue, forgetting that we have a duty to learn how to be in covenant together and to integrate our children and youth into the life of the faith community.
After all, Bridging should be more than a one-Sunday event where we publicly recognize and honor our seniors when they graduate out of school and Sunday RE programming. In truth we have too often pushed our youth off a bridge to nowhere, having not prepared them for congregational life outside RE. Our new approach to youth ministry (and that word matters) compels us to see the three years leading up to graduation as a time to prepare youth for a journey. In packing their metaphorical backpack with experiences, competencies, and faith formation, we believe we will:
- Increase the chances that even when they leave, they will see themselves as UUs and act in the world in reflection of our values.
- Increase the likelihood that they will seek out UU community on campus or attend churches elsewhere, both during the young adult years and when they begin their own families.
To that end, our new YRUU group has a year of varied experiences planned.
Because we know that a real relationship with clergy is highly correlated with continuing to practice the UU faith, and that worship is an experience of high value to adult UUs but we give children and youth little time there to form positive experiences and memories and competencies there: youth will attend worship as a group with an advisor and meet afterward for pizza and conversation with one of the ministers. This day also affords youth the chance to get involved in helping produce worship; we have developed several ways for youth to be included as a service participant.
Because we believe that social justice is a core component of the work our theology compels us to do in the world, and because there are many opportunities to BOTH integrate with others in the church and to create their own social justice strategies and activities: students gather to both plan and manage, as well as join in and go out to, activities and events they choose, with supervision by a dedicated and veteran social justice advisor.
Because we know that covenant groups are an essential piece of UUism for many adults, teaching what it means to be in covenant as a people of faith, and because we know youth groups need to form deep bonds and discuss what matters most to them about personal, political, social, and global matters: youth will gather regularly to share deeply, to create a living covenant to guide them, and to connect to their peers and advisors.
Because we know that youth need an opportunity for unstructured time and that food is a highly motivating factor, and because we want youth to have more opportunities to interact with the life of the congregation: youth will gather in the kitchen to cook and eat food, and, on some Sundays, cook and offer food to the congregation as a fundraising effort toward an immersive youth trip.
Add in a youth-led worship service in May, trips to youth cons at The Mountain in December and April, and the possibility of a trip to General Assembly or elsewhere this summer, our year looks busy, but spiritually engaging and very different from youth groups of the past. We believe our approach will serve the youth of our congregation more fully, and increase the health of the congregation as a whole, as we fulfill the promises we make to be as inclusive, encouraging, and supportive as possible to all the parts of our faith community.
Click here for a printable flyer to hang up as a reminder about each Sunday’s opportunities. Please let me know if a youth in your life would like to join us!