Youth Group Gathering Recipe Box

I want to get really good at leading gatherings with youth, and I want you to help me. So I’m sharing the recipe for a gathering I and three very talented volunteers led for 6th and 7th graders yesterday in the hopes that you’ll look it over and comment.

Also, feel free to use it.

A note about structure. As I’ve written in this space, I’m a big fan of Stanley Pollack’s Moving Beyond Icebreakers and so I structure youth gatherings with name and warmup exercises, springboard activities, clearly defined work, summation, and evaluation. I’m open to comment about that structure, which comes entirely from Pollack.

A note about content. If “great artists steal,” then youth workers are world-class thieves. Some of the activities in this agenda are taken from a Spice Rack lesson on Psalm 23, which you can buy here. Other pieces are applied from Pollack’s work, and still others are original to me.

This Is In My Portfolio Now

Adults who work with youth in churches are amazingly committed and talented. A major part of the youth ministry profession should involve working with a team of adults to learn and grow: in faith, in relationships with teens and with one another, in their interpretation of adolescence, and in skills and strategies for working with youth effectively. My go-to tool for the latter is becoming Stanley Pollack’s Moving Beyond Icebreakers. 

I discovered the book in 2010 and have used it to structure youth groups as well as committee meetings. I’m seriously considering getting copies for all of our youth group volunteers and teaching it to them as our default method for structuring youth group meetings.

It’s a fairly simple method buttressed by a hard-to-argue-with conviction that meetings are better when interactivity is stitched into their fabric from the outset. So MBI employs back-and-forth interaction between participants and the facilitator at every stage, and it coaxes participants to interact with each other. Even if the main body of work is a presentation or a lecture, MBI builds a context of interacting and processing to deepen relationships.

Every gathering starts with a name-sharing and warmup exercise. There is always a “springboard” activity, then, that engages the group and gets people ready to do the work of the day. The main work follows, be that a discussion or a study, planning or building something, and then the gathering finishes with a brief summation of the work and an evaluation of the gathering. That’s it.

I think you could teach a team of youth ministry volunteers to design their own classes and small group meetings around this process, rather than relying on published curriculum. Yep, this is in my portfolio now.


Prototypes and Process Modalities: NEXT 2012, part 2

My previous post lifted up the idea of a prototype advocated in Dallas by Jud Hendrix, an idea that has quickly set up camp at the forefront of my brain and is coloring everything I’m thinking about (see Jud’s presentation here)

The other major contribution that NEXT 2012 made for me was an exploration of process modalities, led by the likes of Theresa Cho and Yehiel Curry.

Theresa described an Urban Ministry Convocation that she and some of her colleagues orchestrated with 22 urban churches in a seven mile by seven mile stretch of downtown San Francisco. The gathering required getting commitments from leaders in all of the churches to come to something that wasn’t required to do they weren’t quite sure what with people they didn’t know and organized by an entity they didn’t trust. 19 of the 22 churches sent leaders. The process of recruiting participants was itself nuanced and creative.

Since it was a new thing they were doing, Theresa and her  colleagues decided early in the planning that they would need a new kind of process, a process that they would have to create themselves. What they ended up with was something that invited participants to listen to one another and share their own story, something that allowed them to sit quietly as well as move around and interact, something that gave voice to the past while also sharing the struggle of the present and prayerfully prodding people toward God’s future.

That process isn’t, I’m sure, in any book. Parts of it are, but surely not the same book. The people behind the Urban Ministry Convocation in San Francisco had to decide what they thought the gathering needed to accomplish, then they got creative about crafting a process–their own process, not somebody else’s–to make that happen. Read more of Theresa’s thoughts on it here.

The 600-or-so NEXT participants didn’t just hear people talk about process modalities, though. We were were led through one that most of us had never experienced before: Open Space. I won’t labor to explain it here, but kudos to NEXT’s organizers for allowing the time and potential confusion of such an experiment.

Finally, Yehiel Curry described an alternative process for ordination developed by the ELCA called Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM). Curry is the pastor of Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, IL., but he didn’t start at that church as its pastor. Rather, he became involved as a church member and ministry volunteer and was invited by the ELCA to pursue ordination and become the church’s pastor. He was ordained as a result of the TEEM process and installed as the pastor in 2009, and he’s currently finishing his seminary degree (view Curry’s presentation about TEEM here).

What struck me about this was how much more responsive to a congregation’s needs it seems to be. Rather than forcing a congregation to select someone from completely outside of their system to lead them, the TEEM process allows the church to select from within the non-ordained leadership of the church candidates who may be equipped, ordained, and installed as pastor. It’s a contextual solution to a contextual problem.

For almost two years now I’ve been using Moving Beyond Icebreakers as a tool for structuring interactive gatherings. I’m using it with youth groups, presbytery teams, and retreats. Only after being in Dallas this week do I now realize what I’ve been doing with it: experimenting with process modalities.

I feel smarter already.