As youth workers, we have an incredible opportunity to help students discover their identity in Christ. Through the teenage years, two questions students ask themselves are “who am I,” and “where do I belong?” Those are two of the most powerful questions we get to help students answer. These questions go together and have a sequence to them. For us to have the opportunity to lead students to understand who they are, they first need to belong. When students come to our services, they will normally come back only if they feel they belong. In all honesty, it makes sense. Who would want to go somewhere you feel you do not belong? In our youth ministries, we need to create a belonging culture, so that our students will discover their identity in Christ. Our greatest tool for students to feel belong is, coincidentally, other students.
Here’s a story I have. In the first couple of months at the church I serve, a student walked in I had not seen before at youth group. To be honest, it seemed like he would have a hard time connecting to anyone. I tried asking him some questions, but it was hard to get much out of him. As time passed, I went over to greet some others. Around five minutes later, I looked back to check and see how the student was doing. When I looked, I was surprised. Our entire group of teens had invited this guy to talk in their circle. They were friendly and getting to know him. They made him feel that he belonged. Today, he is a part of our student worship team and many students look up to him, me included. Without him initially feeling like he belonged, I am not sure that we would have ever seen him again. Now, it is a part of our culture to welcome new students every time they walk through the door. Not of them return, but we make sure that whoever walks through the door knows they are loved and has a place at our table. You too, can create a belonging culture in your youth ministry and here are some tips to help.
- Make it a value. If students do not know the value of helping students to belong, they will be less inclined to do so. In building a culture of belonging, you need to make sure students know how important it is to the life of the youth ministry.
- Speak on it. In between series, it would be a great idea to speak on how much it means to belong. Jesus made sure the people he was with belonged. The outcast of the outcast felt they belonged when they were with Jesus. A great story to do this with is the story of Zacchaeus. A man nobody liked. There was no way he belonged, but when Jesus came into town, He still hung out with Zacchaeus. Through the time they were together, Zacchaeus changed his perspective on life and promised to give back all the money he had taken through being a tax collector and then some. Zacchaeus belonged when he encountered Jesus. We have the same opportunity with each student we encounter.
- Model it. We need to practice what we preach (see what I did there!). If we expect our students to help others belong, then we need to be doing it, too. Your students watch you like a hawk. You are their superhero. If they see you are not hanging out with that new student that smells like B.O. because they are in middle school and don’t think they need to use deodorant, then your students more than likely won’t either. In anything we want to change or add in our culture, it starts with us. We have to model the importance of belonging for our students to help others belong. It’s a process, but is more than worth it.
Helping students belong is so important in our ministries. We never know who is going to walk through the door at youth group, but if we can help them belong, then they are more likely to come to know who they are in Christ. It starts with us, but will have a greater impact when our students grasp on and help others to belong.
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