Connecting Up and Down | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
April 2011

Connecting Up and Down

By Chris Wilterdink

Every year at graduation time, our youth group interviews graduating seniors asking them for thoughts and reflections upon their time in youth group. While most of the responses are positive and uplifting, there are also comments that feel candid and make me revisit the dynamics of our youth group.

The question: “What would you tell a future youth who is considering joining our youth group?” The response: “I would tell them to be careful, because most of the youth who are welcoming and loving have graduated or are graduating this year.” A response that feels like a punch to the gut for any youth leader…

So with a chance to learn from this response, I see several potential reasons for the comment.

1) Perhaps this group of youth were particularly gifted in reaching out and including others. Gifts and skills fluctuate as classes of youth graduate through the ranks of a youth group. Paying attention to the gifts of individuals and groups can help a youth worker understand their group better.

2) Perhaps reaching out and inclusion were points of focus several years ago, and have not been reinforced lately. There is an ebb and flow to the attitudes that make up a youth group. While some youth workers like to believe that a youth group ‘culture’ can override these shifts in attitude, a constant refresher of preferred behaviors can be helpful.

3) Perhaps the youth’s comment says more about their personal experience than it does about the youth group. A youth group of any size will have a variety of opinions about similar experiences, so finding out if this feeling is personal or part of a larger majority is important.

I’m sure there are more possibilities as well, but the overall challenge that supersedes all of the above comments is the need for youth to connect not only within their own grade and with leadership, but with the grades above and below them as well. Too often when youth get to the 11th and 12th grades, they lament the loss of older youth who mentored and accepted them in the past. Sometimes, they can get so caught up in that idea, they fail to realize that they have now become the ‘older youth’ who need to reach down to those younger than they are.

Connecting youth up and down through the grades provides great strength within a youth group, but also can be a difficult task. Often Jr Highers wonder why the older youth don’t want to hang out with them, only to eventually become Sr Highers that want little to do with anyone younger than they are.

If you’ve got ideas for connecting youth in meaningful ways across grade levels, please pass them on!

Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.