Kids are too busy to participate? Not true! Busyness creates emptiness. Busy kids are often the most spiritually hungry kids. Kids make time for what is most meaningful, and gives purpose.
I teach Grace Place as a style for a youth ministry gathering time.
Whether you call it that or not is up to you, but Grace Place describes it best.
It begins with a group of youth and adults trained in Peer Ministry Leadership.
It continues with Peer Ministry Implementation Coaching.
I have always been good at creating youth ministry that works, not only in bringing numbers of kids together, but in building caring and welcoming leaders, and surrounding kids with faith mentoring adults, and in giving kids a place of unconditional acceptance where faith and life come together.
What is Grace Place?
These are some of the elements.
ONE: Grace Place always welcomes. A Grace Place never has requirements, never thinks less of a person, never looks down on individuals. You have not been here for a while? We understand. Come on in. Not feeling very religious lately? It’s okay. Confused about what you believe? Even belief is not a requirement. Never been here before? We are making this a place you can feel you belong from the very first time you come. Too busy? Busyness always creates an emptiness. When you are too busy, it is time to step out of the fast traffic of life and come to just be!
TWO: Theology of Grace. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:23-24. We love because Christ first loved us. – I John 4:19. Very briefly… God’s love and grace is for all. Our response is to love others. Youth need to know that not all religion is about arguments, manipulative belief systems, and obsession over who is in and who is out. Youth need to know people of grace, places of grace, and a God of grace.
THREE: The culture. Above all other elements culture is intentionally created. There are no membership expectations, no attendance requirements, no judgements, no popularity standards. Faith is honest, not a snobby faith, not a better-than-thou faith, not a showy happy-joy-joy-vibrant-shiny-faith, but one that welcomes every bit of life; the good, the bad, the great joys along with the great sorrows. It is okay to leave your mask at the door. This is created by a well trained faith nurturing group of Peer Ministry Leaders who hold each other accountable, creating this culture and become “keepers of the culture”. It is stated in an ever present litany that names grace as the goal.
FOUR: The team. The team combines PML-trained youth and adults who fully understand the importance of caring and welcoming ministry. Most importantly, they care and welcome during and beyond program time, understanding this ministry as something that happens every day, everywhere, and in every relationship. These are people striving to be grace people. During the Grace Place time, PML youth lead the Faith and Life Candle Groups and Candle prayers. Adults are mentoring supportive adults, who add to an ever growing list of Triple-A adults in kid’s lives.
FIVE: Activity that includes. There is a funneling in as everyone is coming from their own personal “busy” that allows for a sense of unity. Most often this is in the form of creative games, challenges, and song. The atmosphere is lively, full of laughter, smiles, always inclusive, always welcoming. The goal is to include everyone in nonthreatening ways.
SIX: Creative intro. This time motivates participants to begin to think about a Biblical narrative and life topic. This is not a lecture nor a teaching time. It is a way of inviting God’s story to be connected with our own stories. This time invites the mind to want to talk.
SEVEN: Faith and Life Candle Groups. Sitting on the floor in a small group led by a couple of PML trained leaders around a candle in a dimly lit room. It has the feel of those late night conversations around a campfire. The dividing walls have come down and the trust level has come up. The focus is primarily on people rather than learning about a topic. While scripture is always part of the discussion, it is used as part of life and faith discovery.
EIGHT: Candle Time Prayer. This is a time to turn all awareness towards God. At the end of the evening, candles are brought together from the groups and everyone surrounds them in the dark for prayer. Prayer is shared in different ways and in different formats. It may include song, and a simple style of worship. Prayers may be in pairs, small groups and sometimes in the midst of a large group.
NINE: The Setting. Neutral ground! You will choose what works best. I have a bias. My favorite choice would be in homes. Church buildings immediately assume expectations and membership. Homes allow for impartial participation. Homes demonstrate that faith can be found outside of church buildings. Every time a new home is used, new parents witness first hand this amazing evening. Parents are your best advocates, as they share with other parents. Although I am biased about using homes, most still choose the setting of the congregational building. Think through intentional welcoming places.
TEN: Youth Ministry not Youth Group. All service begins with seeing. Seeing is the first step to being able to name needs. When people become attentive to needs, these become foci for service. Service, be it physical or relational, is generated from the desire to care and welcome in all situations. Groups become clubs, they face inward, they become all about themselves, create programs for their benefit. Ministry faces outward, seeing needs, always welcoming, always including, always serving others, always desiring to make life better for someone else.
ELEVEN: Systems. No more, “Winging it.” No more, “Flying by the seat of my pants.” The leadership has to do the background work, putting systems in place for planning, tracking, including, training, nurturing, inviting, recruiting, managing time, staff relationships, envisioning, even juggling. People avoid systems thinking because it can be overwhelming, but in the long run, systems help a person juggle all that needs to be done, done well and allows for growing to the next levels. These are learned and mastered one at a time.