Ask any youth leader anywhere why students attend youth group and you’ll generally get the same answer: friends. I’d like to think it’s my perfectly delivered messages or the strong programs we have each week, but I know for a fact that if I had the apostle Paul himself coming to lead the program this week, my youth would be texting each other Saturday afternoon: “U goin?” Certainly friends are a huge part of why students attend our youth group, but can their motivation go deeper? Are there students in our group who would attend even if their friends didn’t? The answer is yes. There is more to why students attend a youth group than just having their friends there. In fact, our group is full of students who are there for various reasons.
As a longtime youth pastor, I grew curious about what motivated my students to come to our youth group. As I thought about it more, I decided to ask as many of our students as possible and I came up with some really good reasons on why they come.
Students attend youth group because:
• Their friends are there
• They have a desire to grow closer to God
• They have a desire to learn about the teachings of Jesus
• They are seeking opportunities to make their faith relevant in the world
• They desire close friendships within a fellowship of believers.
1. Because Their Friends are there
Before you skip this obvious motivation, you need to know it is structured differently than we might think. What I found is church friends can exist in different “friend” categories. Many youth have church friends they consider different from school friends or neighborhood friends. Church friends have a special bond not found in other friendships. There is a close tie to church friends; this is even more evident in groups that have students from different high schools.
I had a student say, “It’s really hard to walk with Christ alone, but when you have all your brothers and sisters around you encouraging you, that’s a huge thing.” Many students said youth group had a different feel about it, that it was more than just getting together with friends. Another student said, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that every time I came to church, friends weren’t part of my thinking. But it’s definitely getting closer to God, I think fellowship with other believers is also part of that.”
So, yes, one reason students attend youth group is because they have friends there, but they are special friends. So what makes those friends so special? What brings two or more youth together as prayer partners or accountability partners? What I discovered was a bond students were describing that was found only among church friends. That bond is described in our second reason.
2. A Desire to Grow Closer to God
Again, no big surprise, but it’s deeper than it appears. Our students look to each other to find God. When one student can see the faith of another student, he or she has a desire to grow closer to God. That desire can manifest in many ways, but basically faith is contagious. When a student can see God in a friend, that student has a desire, consciously or subconsciously, to know more about that God.
3. A Desire to Grow Closer to Jesus
Learning about God is learning about the love of the Creator and the grace and forgiveness that comes with that love. Once the students in this survey learned about God, there emerged a desire to grow closer to Jesus; that is, how to treat others and live among them. Several students indicated their faith wasn’t something talked about as much as something one does.
4. Opportunities to Make Faith Relevant in the World
There seems to be a point in a student’s faith when he or she wants to be a better person, wants to participate in mission opportunities and wants to work toward the Gospel and peace in the world. Students have a desire to participate in mission and service opportunities. Students report focusing less on themselves and more on others; several report getting along better with their parents and siblings and helping more around the house.
Students report a desire to treat others differently based on a deepening relationship with Jesus. Students also report deeper relationships with friends, seeking strong relationships with Christian brothers and sisters to assist in their own faith walk.
5. Having a Fellowship of Believers
As students sought opportunities to make their faith relevant in the world, many of the students also spoke of a realization that we, as Christians, are all in this together. Although having friends in the youth group is important, having really deep Christian friends is a common theme. Our students realize that true Christian friends have your back no matter what. Church friends seemed to be on a different plane than school or neighborhood friends.
The Cycle of Ministry
These stages do not appear in a straight line, but in a circle or a cycle. This can be called, “The Cycle of Ministry” because each stage in the cycle is an entry point into the church. There really is no starting point; any stage can be a starting point.
Although most of the students entered youth group at the “Because My Friends Are There Stage”, many have moved into the “Learn More About God” and “Learn More About Jesus” stages. Others already have moved into the “Making My Faith Relevant Stage” and have come fully around the cycle to “Having a Fellowship of Believers.”
There seems to be no set time to spend at a certain level and it seems possible to be in more than one level at a time. Finally, several students talked to me about coming full circle in the cycle and going around again, only at a deeper level. There is no limit to the number of times someone can go through the cycle. However, with each trip, the study of Jesus is a little deeper; the desire to make their faith relevant may be more drastic; and their friendships within the church grow stronger.
"Our students look to each other to find God. When one student can see the faith of another student, he or she has a desire to grow closer to God."
"There seems to be a point in a student’s faith when he or she wants to be a better person, wants to participate in mission opportunities and wants to work toward the Gospel and peace in the world."
"Our students realize that true Christian friends have your back no matter what."