I like to survey students whenever possible, and one of the purposely-vague questions I always like to ask is, "What is your favorite thing to do for fun?"
Can you guess the number one answer I hear? You might think it's something like, "play sports"
or "listen to music."
Yes, those are up there on the list, but not #1.
The #1 answer I hear sounds something like this: "Kickin it with my friends"
or "Just hangin out"
or "Chillaxin wit' my homies."
Just a few weeks ago the leaders at one of our training events were complaining about how all the kids were talking through their worship time in their own program the week before. One leader said, "These kids don't see each other all week, and the first thing they want to do is just sit around and talk. It's hard to program that!"
You see- we have a catch 22. Students want to just hang out—it's the #1 thing they want to do. Yet, if we don't provide anything to do, they'll say "we're bored." (especially jr. highers!) Not to mention, if we're going to reach kids for Christ and make disciples of Him, we probably need some content.
On the other hand, if we program the whole evening, they often talk through the entire thing or bail completely, going somewhere else where they can just hang out.
So what's the answer? OVER-PROGRAMMING or UNDER-PROGRAMMING ... THAT IS THE QUESTION
Sometimes youth leaders over-program, and sometimes they under-program. Where's the balance?
I've been to groups where there is no "hang out" time. Students come right in, take a seat and worship or game time begins immediately. The temptation for students is to ignore the program and just talk with their friends that they haven't seen all week. This is very common. One of the most common questions I receive on my ASK JONATHAN page is, "My kids keep talking during youth group. What do I do?" (For one of my answers to that question, CLICK HERE
) We need to plan "hang out" time.
I've also been to groups that have nothing planned but "free time." No content, no discussions, nothing relevant to meet the needs of students desperately trying to find answers.
As much as kids like to just "hang out," I like to provide something. I like to try to find a balance. And if I err on one side, I linger on the side of "hang out" time. After all, this is an opportunity for my volunteer youth leaders to build relationships with kids. We have the opportunity to "hang out" with them and get to know them better.
We can make "hang out" time with students a tool for relationship building. Not only during our programmed "hang out time," but throughout the week as well. Students like talking on the phone, hanging with their friends at the mall, or just "kicking it" at Starbucks. This is an open door for "one-on-one" time with students. As youth workers, we can invite them to Taco Bell for some greasy food, McDonalds for a milkshake, or Starbucks for a Vente Latte (two words that kids didn't even know a decade ago).
One-one-one time with students is always one of my high priorities in youth ministry. Many kids in today's generation are growing up with very little, if any, one-on-one attention from positive adult mentors. You may find that students that are normally shy or reserved in a crowd will really open up one-on-one. (I talk more about making one-on-one a priority in my article about the power of one-on-one time CLICK HERE
So how do we find this balance of "hang out" time in our programs and events? WEEKLY PROGRAMS
In our weekly programs, provide a "hang out" time at the beginning. A fun atmosphere with munchies, music, maybe even a coffee bar (pretty popular these days). But then dive into your content in a real, relevant and relational way. Something that still gives them a chance to interact with each other. Small groups are a good way to still cover content, but in a relational way. TRIPS AND EVENTS
In our trips and events, provide "options" for activities, plenty of "hang out time," and clear boundaries so you don't lose kids between the cracks. I talked a little about this in the context of a weekend retreat in my event idea about PLANNING WEEKEND RETREATS
I find it great news that the #1 thing students like to do is be relational. Youth ministry is relational, and our God is relational. God wants a relationship with our students, and our students are looking for a relationship. Not bad, huh? We have the awesome privilege to introduce students to what they are looking for.
If you enjoyed this article from Jonathan McKee, learn even more about programming and budgeting in Jonathan's award winning book, Getting Students to Show Up!
(Get the book at a discounted price here