Monday, June 4, 2018

H.S. YOUTH: The After-Confirmation Program

Just a few weeks ago there were confirmation photos all over social media and today was graduate recognition Sunday at my church. For those graduates there has been 4 years of no Bible education unless they come on Sunday morning. (I've been to some youth Bible studies and wasn't impressed as kids sat around, looking at their phones, and answered obvious questions.) After confirmation, how many of them show up? We graduate them from formal Bible learning at 14, the beginning of their identity searching, deciding who they want to be formative years, and hope they continue to show up. And if they don't we think we need to do more activities to draw them in. We need a more dynamic program. We raise a lot of money and go on lots of trips to youth gatherings and mission trips to Thailand or Guatemala or anywhere not near where they live. I'm not saying those are bad, but times have changed and we need to change with them.

So, after extensive thought, here's what I came up with.

The Caper

After confirmation Sunday, choose a Saturday morning and let the parents know you're going to kidnap the confirmands. That way they don't have a chance to come up with an excuse not to come to their first youth group event. (Also, it's a really cool tradition.)

Why do we have a youth group?
Because during the teenage years is when the need to be a part of a group is of utmost importance. Belonging is paramount. Students need to belong somewhere and if we don't provide that place and hook them in early, they will find a group outside the church. That's not always bad, but it's also not always good.

The key to a successful youth group is connection. No, not students being connected to their DCE or an adult leader, but students being connected to each other. They need to make friends. There are a few things necessary for that to happen.

  • Getting to know each other games and activities. There are millions of these online. They need to have fun, learn to trust each other, and laugh together. If you don't now, start a co-rec sports team, especially summer softball. 
  • Getting to know each other talks. Simply sharing information is not the best way to get to know somebody. You need to find out what they have in common by creating a survey and finding out about them before the kidnapping. For example (knowing when their birthdays are ahead of time so groups are somewhat equal), "Everyone whose birthday is in the summer in group one. Everyone whose birthday is in winter in group two...."  The discussion question is: What's the craziest thing that ever happened at or on your birthday or a party you attended? Then switch up the groups and talk about embarrassing moments or fears or whatever the survey shows they have in common. 
  • Opportunities to work together. Put newbies and regulars in mixed groups for jobs like cooking breakfast and cleaning up, collecting recyclables at church (yes, they can). Also, if you have a youth room, plan to redecorate every year on this day (see previous post). Everyone should participate in this activity. The more students work together, they more they learn about each other. There's nothing more binding for kids than laying around OUTSIDE all hot and sweatty after working hard to help plant the flowers around the church when suddenly a water fight breaks out. 
  • Feeling safe. This is a big one. Sometimes you have students from different schools, students who are homeschooled, or a student or two who regularly feel left out. Every year on this day get everyone together to create and sign a pledge that will hang on the wall. It's a pledge of how they will treat each other. Be specific, don't just say "be respectful." Try to word things from a positive perspective instead of negatives. This is what we will do, not what we will not do. Have the kids find Bible verses to support what they write. Then have them say the pledge. We pledge this to each other. "This will be our safe place." What does it look like if everyone is included? Also, remind people that not all teasing is mean. Sometimes with high school students tease you they're letting you know you fit in. Make sure, however, that everyone needs to be comfortable being told to be nice if somebody gets too snarky. 

The "Talk"

After everyone arrives and has eaten and cleaned up breakfast, and since you have them all in the same room, have the "talk." This is the moment where you shift into serious mode and tell them that now that confirmation is over it's up to each of them to decide if nurthruing their faith is important to them. Some parents may still make them go to church, but they get to decide whether they will nurture their faith or not. Let them talk in groups and list the pros and cons of specifically setting aside time to nurture their faith. Ask the following questions:

  • Why do we have Bible studies on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights?  Because the Bible is our primary connection to God and being disconnected from from God weakens our faith. 
  • Is your faith important enough to you to continue going to church? 
  • Is it important enough to you to be a part of a high school program?
  • Is it important enough for you to read and study the Bible? 
  • Now that you're not required to attend a class, where will faith and nurturing it be on your priority list?  
  • It's not important that you be on the softball team or do every fun activity the youth group does. What is important? 

Then tell them about the Faith Builder Program.

The High School Faith Builder Program

The Faith Builder Program is, in many ways, an extension of confirmation. It continues through high school and hopefully instills in youth a desire to always keep learning and seeking God's truth in the Word. It needs to be planned ahead so everyone knows what they're going to do as a group. (Remember the need to belong part?)

Below is a chart of a program I would create that includes the 7th and 8th grade confirmation years. Everything is done within the context of the youth group. The youth meetings need to be run by the youth and an agenda created for each meeting. In the meeting the projects and timelines should be discussed. You'll notice that fun/fellowship activities aren't included as they are outside the scope of this part of youth development.



MS Bible Reading Plan Year 1 (Old Testament)

In-church Service

Out-of-Church Service
Faith Journey Poster
(Talk to family members about faith.)


MS Bible Reading Plan Year 2 (New Testament)

In-church Service

Out-of-Church Service
Reflection Paper
Worship Education

Worship Music Study
  - Hymn Studies
  - Contemporary Music Studies
  - Camp Music

LCMS & Social Issues: Where do we stand?
In-Church Service

Out-of-Church Service

Work with junior students to develop a worship service.
Worship Music Project
  (Music reflecting beliefs)

Evaluate Adult Bible Studies
(using an evaluation tool)
HS Bible Reading Plan Year 1 (Old Testament)

Discipleship 101
Sit in on various boards or committees. See what interests them. 
Work with Sunday School children on an Old Testament Story presentation.
HS Bible Reading Plan Year 2 (New Testament)

Discipleship 201
Leadership – participate on a board or committee

Plan & Organize a Worship Service (work with peers).
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Leadership – Plan and organize an event at church.
Use a creative way to share their beliefs: create a video, write a book, use creative drama, write a song, etc. These should be shared with the congregation on or around graduate recognition Sunday. (Previous post)

REMEMBER - everything kids do together is fun because 
they're doing it together!  Let friends work with friends!
  • Service within the congregation - Students need to transition into adult roles by starting to take an active part in the congregation though ushering, reading Scripture, being Sunday School teacher aids, doing yard work or working on the facility, working or participating on a board and/or being a part of a "ladies" group or larger church ministry of some kind. This should include multi-generational activities. If they have an idea of their own about how they can serve, perhaps starting a homework club, have them propose it at a board meeting.
  • Service outside of the congregation - This could begin at any time and should not be something they do with a large youth group but could be done with one or two friends. We want them to live lives of service and understand that it doesn't have to happen within and "event" or "mission trip." They can volunteer to visit nursing homes, clean their grandma's home or garage, help an older person in their neighborhood, volunteer to take care of a younger person for somebody, stay after school to help a teacher, read to younger kids, etc. 
  • Organize an event. Students should organize (with a few friends) a church event. The older kids should take the key leadership roles while the younger kids learn from them. The key to this working is not to let adults take over and do it for them. 
  • Visit adult Bible studies. Students can do an evaluation of some kind that includes questions about the content and asks their opinion of what was discussed. They need to feel absolutely welcome and encouraged to attend and ask any questions they might have. Some older adults may have difficulty with this, but it's an important step in the transition into adult participation in the congregation. 
  • I believe... - Students can work together to create a document of their beliefs. It can be a video, book, creative drama, song, etc., but should be in their own words. (This document may help.) The goal of every Christian is not just to be concerned about their own relationship with God, but to be able to share the gospel with others.
  • Develop Worship Service - After learning about worship, students organize and lead a worship service. It should contain all appropriate elements, a theme, appropriate music, a message about what they believe with specific teachable moments for the congregation, etc. They'll need guidance from the pastor and be given structure. These documents might help:  worship table of parts, blank worship table of partsbiblical history of worship, and worship service planning outline
The Faith Builder Program is intended to be both fun and challenging! 
PLEASE don't make this a huge chore!

The Send Off
Send-Off Sunday is also graduate recognition Sunday. Imagine what they will have learned and how much fun they will have being creative while developing their belief system. Imagine how much they will feel a part of the congregation after serving in the congregation, participating on boards, and being welcome in adult Bible study. On this day, the seniors will share their projects (video, book, skit, song, etc.) with the congregation. Depending on the size of the group it can be done during worship or afterward with a potluck. Please be sure to have families come up and put their hands on their kids as you pray for them.  Have the other students in the group write and say the prayer.

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