Investing in Students from Churches with No Youth Group

This is the time I have been waiting for all of my parenting life. Babies are cute. Preschoolers are funny little balls of energy. Elementary children learn and grow at amazing speeds into tiny humans. But this…this late middle and high school age…this is what I have been waiting for the last 13 years. Now here we are, parents of a full-fledged teenager, anticipating for him all the amazing things I remember doing with my youth group as a Nazarene teenager in the 90’s.

There is one marked difference for my kid—he’s the only teen in our church. 

My son’s story is not an uncommon one in small churches across our denomination, but one of the most beautiful things about the Nazarene family is that we have created a remedy for this through our district youth ministries. Through youth camp, retreats, and Bible quizzing, teens like my son, who don’t come from a large youth group, can instead find a sense of belonging and community by becoming a part of a larger story. 

Going the Extra Mile

Building this for students starts at the local level with parents or invested congregation members who are committed to taking the one or two students at their church to district activities.  After that, however, these students need to find a place to fit in your districts which means intentional investment by leaders in students who are not “their own.”  It is simply amazing what happens when teens are made a part of something bigger. It stretches them not only spiritually, but socially and in ways that are not cultivated by being the lone teen at their own church.               

It’s standard practice in a large youth group context, so take that model, stretch it to a larger geographic area, and include a dozen more youth leaders who are investing in students living down the street, across the state, or over the mountain range. As youth leaders, we would never think to overlook that fringe kid in our group of students. On the contrary, we would make a special lunch date with that student, chat with their parents about how best to see that kid succeed and become a well-integrated part of the youth community, and go to that student’s high school play where their role is the third tree from the left. Part of the calling is to go that extra mile for our kids. 

A Larger Family

Part of the issue is that when we move to that district level, we no longer think of the 400 students who represent roughly 100 churches in a predetermined geographic area as our kids, but they are. As a body, we belong to each other. The home youth group can pull students in, but the district engagement and familial environment is what keeps students moving. From month to month there are Bible quizzes. Season to season there are retreats and activities. Year to year, those same friends gather together at youth camp and family camp to bask in that precious time together. Between all those together moments are texts, emails, and phone calls as well as drives to graduations and birthday parties hours away. All of these moments perfectly knit teenagers together as lifelong friends and co-laborers in the mission that others have so greatly fulfilled before them. Leaders who not only know their names, but most importantly know students.

Invest, Engage, Include, Love

 As I type, I am thankful that my son’s cell phone is laying on the dining room table, blowing up with message after message in a group text from his quizzing friends about this weekend’s meet. I am thankful that when he goes to camp, he is not just that kid from that church where there’s no youth group, but that he is someone’s friend because of the way district leaders and students have the ability to wrap their arms around one another at event after event and create a beautiful community. Time after time, I hear parents and adults of my generation speak to the fact that district ties and friendships, as well as those that have spanned nationwide events, are what have kept them hinged to their Nazarene roots. There is an exquisite tapestry to be woven with the lives of these students from your districts. Invest, engage, include, and love.  It is the calling of the youth worker and the desire of the parent’s heart for their child.

Melissa Smith-Moser
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