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5 Common Misreads on Teenagers in Youth Group

One of the things you learn as you go in youth ministry is that teenagers are experts at sending off false signals that can be difficult to pick-up on.

Here are five common ones I see newbies miss all the time.

  • “I’m just hanging out” or “I just thought I’d drop by because I was bored.” If you have a student that stays late or is just hanging around or lingers longer than usual or drops by the office for no real reason– it isn’t an accident. There is always a reason. They want to talk and are waiting for you to take the initiative. And sometimes when they do this you’re going to have to build a little repoire before they share what’s really going on.
  • That student in the back isn’t paying attention. This is a frustration that comes out of youth workers all the time. Stop it. It doesn’t mean what you think it means at all! It’s easy to think that a student who is sitting in the back, looking at the wall, or just looks like they aren’t paying attention isn’t paying attention or is being disrespectful. My experience is that they are usually paying attention and soaking in more than the kids who being compliant, smiling, responsive teenagers in the front row. If they weren’t there for an encounter with God they wouldn’t be there. Period.
  • The student who wants to be a up front is a leader. Nope. Up front skills and spiritual leadership are two different things. When I was in youth group I was up front, leading games, and even leading a small group before I even gave my life to Jesus. Some people are born leaders and lead wherever they go. Students who like to be part of your leadership teams might be just as lost and trying to figure it out as the dude in the back who stares at his iPod the whole time.
  • Spiritual maturity and physical maturity are two different things. This is really hard for adults to grasp. But if you do youth ministry for any length of time you will meet students who are just as spiritually mature, or who are MORE mature, than most of the adults in your church. You don’t have to be 50 and have kids in college to be mature in Christ. How do you judge spiritual maturity? Fruit. Stop looking down on students because they are young. Bottom line on that one.
  • They aren’t ready for theology. Ugh. Any time a youth worker says this I want to punch them in the face. I actually had a methodist youth worker say this recently via a Facebook message. My response: “How old were the founders of Methodism when they got started? Look it up.” Yeah, don’t underestimate what the teenage brain can handle. You can’t tell me that an 11th grader who just wrote a 5 page paper on Whitman’s use of symbolism isn’t ready for some theology. Just because you’d rather play video games than study doesn’t mean that every student is like you. A big reason they eventually bail is because they are bored and the faith that you are exhibiting is boring compared to what they read in the Bible.

These are the misreads I see all of the time. What am I missing? 

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10 Responses to 5 Common Misreads on Teenagers in Youth Group

  1. Jenna Benton June 6, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    One of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. Thanks so much.

  2. Liza June 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Actually, I would suggest if they wanted theology, offer it! Kids are a lot smarter than we think. But… we have to offer time to sit down and have a meaningful discussion with them. Otherwise, it will go over their heads. For example, suggest a book like CS Lewis, which for the most part has theology in it but most kids will pick up on it depending on the age and the book. 

  3. Revcd June 8, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    Frnacis Asbury, inspired by his mother’s devotion to religion, came under Methodist influence at an early age. At the age of 18, Asbury became a local preacher and was ordained at the age of 22. In 1771, he was sent to America as one of five missionaries by Anglican Methodist John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement of Protestantism. Asbury remained the sole British Methodist minister in America during theAmerican War of Independencein 1776.”

  4. Mike Calhoun June 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Adam, great insights…thanks for taking the time to share with all of us. I really appreciate your ministry. Mike Calhoun

  5. Sarah Adrian Deal June 28, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    ” If they weren’t there for an encounter with God they wouldn’t be there.” Bull.

    How many are there because their parents make them, because it makes their parents happy, because they want to flirt with the pastor’s cute son or to have access to girls who will put out easily, because they live in a town with nothing for teens to do and you are quite literally the only game in town? (edit: I wrote this before I read anything else on your blog, I wasn’t trying to snark on you personally with this one.) What about the ones who come in an attempt to suck up to the cool kids from their school, who also happen to go to youth group? There are so many more reasons that have nothing to do with God and everything to do with humans being social creatures.

    • Adam McLane July 1, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      I’ve done this a long time. I’m telling ya, it’s not accident students are there. If they don’t want to be there– realistically very few parents force their kids to come. They might not give them a choice about going to church, but youth group is most often optional.

      • Joy Cobb July 30, 2012 at 10:04 am #

        Late to the game but just found all this…they’ve got plenty of places to do the other things listed. If kids DON’T want to be at church, they will find a way to skip out regardless of their parents dumping them off at the church door. ;) just sayin’…

  6. Joy Cobb July 30, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    LOVE LOVE LOVE the part about spiritual maturity. So many of our kids have been led to believe that those who warm a pew 52 Sundays out of the year are the most spiritually mature. WRONG! I <3 my fruitful little "shrubs" – they are killing it compared to some of the most ancient, yet fruitless, trees who look down on them.

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