Knowing that someone is pleased to see you, that people want you in a group, that people enjoy being with you, are all vital aspects for anyone as they start to belong to any group, whether this is at work, at school or at church. If we stop and think about groups we’ve been in, the ones we’ve enjoyed most will be the ones where these boxes are ticked. Individual attention for each member of our youth group enables them to feel like they belong and therefore feel safe to grow into all that God made them to be.
What is it about youth leaders that when asked how your group is going, the first thought is always to reply numerically? “Yes it’s going great, we’ve got 30 teenagers down each week” or “yes, it’s going well, we only get 4 young people but they seem to love it”. I can remember once sitting in a meeting of employed youth workers who, I am convinced, were playing the numbers game with completely fictitious numbers! The first person started with a group of about 6, and by the last person it was over 50! Whilst numbers are important in so much as they can indicate growth on a base level, they only show a tiny part of the growth picture. Whether you have 4 young people or 30, it is essential for a healthy, growing youth group that each person feels they are valued, loved and make a difference to the group. We need to provide each person with their own individual attention.
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The best examples for giving individual attention, of course, come from Jesus. I love how he sought people out, he didn’t merely leave it to whoever he happened to encounter. So he went to Zacchaeus up the sycamore tree(Luke 19) and wants to spend time with him. When he called the disciples, he didn’t just gather those interested and say “how about it, chaps? Who’s up for being a part of this new thing I’m doing?” and see who responded. No, he sought them out individually and asked them to come with him. Be a part of the adventure. Imagine what that must have felt like? I am sure questions would have gone through each of their heads such as “why me? What could I bring? Is this a mistake?” but by spending time with Jesus, seeing how he invested in them as a group and individually, turned this bunch of young people into a group of radicals who changed the world and started the church.
One way of showing individual attention to members of your group is to make sure they are welcomed well each week. My last blog will give you ideas on how to do this. Here are five other ways that I have discovered go a long way to helping young people to feel they belong:
1. we missed you! If someone misses a group session and doesn’t let you know why, send them a quick text message or use Facebook to simply let them know they were missed. Often people think no one will notice, so this simple action rectifies that thinking. Make sure that the message isn’t too inquisitive (“where were you?!”) as that can sound challenging, but simply says we missed you.
2. birthday cards Put the dates of each person’s birthday in your diary and send them a birthday card in time for their birthday. If you can afford to, posting it is so much better than just handing it to them as it seems more special. Get all the leaders to sign the card if you can.
3. postcards Lots of cinemas and some cafes have advertising postcards available for free. Get into the habit of picking up good ones each time you visit and start to send them out to the teenagers when they’ve done something well. Postcards are great because they don’t take long to write. Young people don’t tend to get much post so receiving something always brightens their day. Postcards are also useful as the parents often get to the post first and will see what you have written and will be encouraged that you took the effort to commend their child on something.
4. get them involved We need to make sure that what we do is not creating a group of young people who merely consume, we need to make contributors. Think about each person in the group and think about what they might be able to individually offer. Get some running the games, some baking cakes for refreshments and others perhaps could give a talk or lead a discussion. The more involved they feel, the greater the sense of ownership and belonging.
5. meet up individually Between all the leaders, try and meet up with each member of your youth group individually. This is the best way of finding out how they are doing, whether they enjoy the group and also to see if there are specific ways that you can support them better.
Jesus cared about the individual and modelled what love is. We need to do the same for each young person we serve, as they discover who Jesus is and put their faith in him.
What difference does individual attention make to the young people you work with? What other ways could you show this care? Add to the list! Which of the five suggestions I make would be easiest for you to start doing, and why? Leave your ideas and comments below.