Outreach: Planning a Gathering
Teenagers love to get together. No matter what kind of gathering you are planning, a Sunday school hour, a small group Bible study, or just a night of fun; here are a few things to keep in mind to help make your gathering a success and more relevant to teenagers
Everything teenagers do is geared to make them feel a certain way. Amusement parks play with one’s emotions (fear, adrenaline, etc.) Schools are set up in an atmosphere to foster an educational process (seats in rows, students facing front, etc.)
The question for your meeting is how do you want your student to feel. If you want them to be comfortable and relaxed, maybe metal folding chairs aren’t the best bet. If you want to encourage discussion, perhaps seating students in a circle is more beneficial than in rows.
The key here is to be creative. Decide what it is you want to accomplish in your meeting. What is the purpose? Once you know that, you know what kind of atmosphere you want to set. Often there are inexpensive solutions: playing music as students enter is good way to “warm” a room up. Having food available is a great way to make students feel at home, but you don’t have to break the bank ordering pizza—have parents volunteer to take turns providing snacks for your group.
Are you using an old room at church to meet? Try welcoming your small group into your home. It helps them know you care about them enough to have them over and the dynamics of your relationship are deepened a great deal. If you have no other choice than a room at church, what are some cheap decorating solutions? Do you have an artist in your group? Maybe they could draw or paint posters to hang. This not only spruces up your space, it gives them ownership in your ministry.
Whenever you’re planning a meeting, don’t forget atmosphere!
Most teenagers are really active. If they don’t have super busy schedules, they at least have trouble sitting still. A student can find it really hard to sit still and listen to a lesson. Lecture-style studies just don’t cut it!
When you plan your gathering, if there is to be a teaching time, be sure there are some points where students can stretch their legs and do more than just intake information (all lessons on this site do!).
An activity can be casual and unconnected to the topic of the day. It could be going on as students enter. But activities shouldn’t end there! Involve students during lesson time. If nothing else, just declare a time out for jumping jacks! It reels students back in and re-establishes their attention span.
If an activity can fit with the lesson, great. If you’re talking about gossip, play a good-old-fashioned game of telephone. If you’re talking about racing for the prize of Heaven, hold a three-legged race. Be creative! Involve students in activities to whatever degree you can.
Even simple things like having students read the Scripture, or praying, or asking discussion questions—these things involve students and help make what you’re studying real. Keep in mind that most students retain a fairly low percentage of what they hear and a really high percentage of things they do. Don’t forget to “do” the lesson in some active way before you finish your meeting.
Attention to Detail
Great gatherings rise and fall on the details. Atmosphere, the nature of the teaching time, these high-level things are all important. But attention to the details makes or breaks the event.
When planning an event, sit down and figure out your goals for the meeting. After you establish what it is you want to accomplish, sit down with a couple other adults (and maybe even a student in your ministry) and try to brainstorm ways to make the gathering the best it can be. This involves time and planning, but the old adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” is really true.
What do you want the atmosphere to be? How do you want students to feel? What do you want them to learn? Do you want them to leave with a challenge? What is it about their lives that needs to change based on that challenge? Should you be the one that directs it all, or could you involve multiple people? How can the students participate? These are all really good questions that lead you to a place where you can iron out details.
The most important aspect of any gathering is that students sense you are being authentic. If you are teaching them a lesson they have seen you contradict, your instruction is likely to be ignored.
If you’re a laid-back, mellow person and you try to act hyper and excited to create excitement, you’re more likely to get weird looks than excited students. If you are not a creative person, then involve creative people in on the planning. If you’re not a great teacher, perhaps you’re a great discussion leader.
Be yourself, and students will respect you for it.