When Students Break Up
It’s a tale as old as time: Boy meets girl. Boy dates girl. Boy brings girl to his youth group. Love abounds, stars fall from the sky, and all is right in the world. For a week. Inevitably, boy and girl break up. When all the dust settles, we are left in the aftermath with two teens and one youth ministry. I’ve seen it a dozen times. Unfortunately, 11 of those times, the boy or girl that was brought into the youth ministry by their boyfriend/girlfriend ends up leaving the ministry after the break up. It happens, and I get it. It’s not an easy situation.
Then there are the relationships that form within the youth group, where both teens lay claim to group in the break-up, and things get awkward, and not that fun sort of teen-goofy awkward. This kind of awkward that almost always ends in someone leaving the group. What can be done? There is no one, easy answer, but I do have some advice on the matter, so hear me out.
1. Don’t let a visiting boyfriend or girlfriend be a lateral attendee.
Sometimes we consider the visiting partner as a temporary attendee, or a long-time visitor. Instead, treat them as any new youth in the room. Make sure that they are engaged. I try to split dating teens up when we do team-building or partner games. Lay a foundation for ownership and buy-in beyond the relationship itself, because the group will likely outlast the relationship.
2. Reach out.
Whether the teens are both long-time members of the ministry, or one is new, they are both teens in need of your guidance. Let them know that they are welcome and that you hope to see them. Be available to talk about the break-up, the relationship, the youth group, or how the Hunger Games movies aren’t as good as the books. Whatever they need to connect with, be there with it readily available.
3. Don’t make the breakup a big deal.
You don’t need to call a special double-secret youth council meeting to discuss the break-up. You don’t need to send letters home to tell the teens to be extra sensitive to the situation. You don’t even need to acknowledge that anything is different to the wider group. Teach like you have always taught, lead as you have always lead, force them to do goofy games for your own enjoyment as you…well, maybe I’m the only one that does that. Show them that life goes on as normally as possible within the ministry.
4. Be prepared for someone to leave, because sometimes they do.
Sometimes it’s what they need to heal. Even if you lay the ground work and help to establish their place in the ministry. Even if you are there for them, spend time talking it through with them, even get them to say they won’t leave. Even if it seems like everything is back to normal. If need be, get them plugged in at another ministry at another church in the interim, because when it comes down to it, it’d be better for them in another ministry than not in ministry at all.
All of these points are important, but the last is paramount; take the time to make sure they know that your care for them is not contingent upon that relationship, their attendance to your youth group or church. Still be there for them, like you would be if they didn’t leave. Make sure they know that even if they never return to the ministry (which sometimes they won’t) that you are still there for them if they need you, and most importantly that Jesus is always there for them, regardless of their church or ministry affiliation. That is true youth ministry.