Beyond the work of God through His grace, the culture of a youth group may be one of the most crucial factors in determining a group’s trajectory and impact.
A culture that is exclusive will quickly hinder your ability to be God’s prevenient grace to those distant from God. An attitude such as this will describe God as unwilling to allow outsiders on His team. Our understanding of God says just the opposite- there is no such thing as outsiders. There are those who are wanted by God but do not realize their distance from Him.
A culture that is overly competitive will suffer in its ability to speak of a God that loves regardless of one’s worthiness. If your group is all about the win, what about those that lose? Competition can be healthy, but it can also speak falsehoods of God to those who already feel unworthy.
The culture of a group is complicated and takes its developmental cues from many places: geographical location, leadership, congregational history, students’ preferences, socio-economical backgrounds of the families, local school district environments, etc. The reality is that we can never fully control the dynamics of a group. Nor should we try. Some sway or variation in a group’s culture can be a breath of fresh air and a form of God’s grace.
Although we do not want to control a group’s culture, we can choose to steer it a little. I like to think of it as giving small nudges much like the pushing of a boat in the water. A little nudge can move a boat significantly.
Where To Begin
To know where and how to nudge our culture, we must first understand the culture of the ministry. I know you think you have a good hold on your group. I agree- I know my group’s culture also. As any good leader should, we must admit to ourselves that we may have blind spots. We do not know everything that happens. So before nudging, it is time for a gut check.
First, create a one-page Ministry Culture document that describes the culture of your group. Be clear and concise in this document. In this document, you will explain what a new person would experience and what that would say to them about God. Honesty in this document is essential.
To do this, assess the culture of the group. Imagine you were an outsider, how would you describe the overall feel of the group? What stands out as positive? What gives you a negative feeling? Or maybe, you feel blinded because of your proximity to the group. If that is the case, ask an outsider that you trust to give you some feedback.
Involve others in the development of your Ministry Culture document. Ask student leaders, adult leaders, parents and even visitors questions like:
When you walked into the room, what was your first impression?
What two words would you use to describe people here? Why did you choose those two words?
What do our gatherings tell a person about God?
Over the coming weeks, we will look at ways to create the type of culture we would hope to see in our student ministries. First, I strongly encourage you to take the time to develop a Ministry Culture document. Ask the tough questions, the right questions, and the questions that will reveal your strengths and weaknesses. Then review the document with your team. Do you like what you see? Do you like what you are saying about God?
Warning, you should be prepared to be encouraged and discouraged at the same time. I believe though, that if you are willing to face the good and the bad, then a better future awaits your student ministry.