Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Belonging Before Believing

I was just looking at some Church websites and came upon the following in the Youth section of a United Methodist Church. It is pretty impressive in that it states what I have been saying well. While the site is directed at senior high youth I am quite certain research would prove it accurate for Adults as well.

The Following is a WORK IN PROGRESS!

What Do Small Groups Give Us We Cannot Find in Sunday Morning & Evening Gatherings?
That's the million dollar question. Here's the million dollar answer. The schedules of our lives fracture our connections with one another. Getting our youth and parents in the same place at the same time continues to grow more and more challenging. In fact, it grows more and more challenging to have our mission teams together from the beginning of the trip until the end.

The beauty of small groups is that we maintain a connection throughout the year. It's a lot easier getting a smaller group together and it takes us back to our roots as United Methodists. John Wesley started the small group movement only he called them "accountability groups". And being held accountable to one another, within the framework of a small group ministry, is exactly what our ministry needs today.

Belonging Comes Before Believing
All youth groups must be built on one foundation: relationships. Significant ground breaking research (The National Study on Youth and Religion) and the experience of every good youth leader and parent has shown this to be true. And as we ponder how a Christian education model is built on relationships with Christ and each other, it is important to realize that the public school system model is not built on relationships.

Consider this: a home schooled youth can succeed and graduate from high school without ever developing close relationships with peers. Youth groups and churches can never succeed this way. Youth must attend school because it is the law. At youth group they will come because of relationships.

Here's why we want to move to a small group model. We'll improve our chances of growing in the faith if we use a relational model as our foundation and not the school system model.

Head Vs. Heart
The school system model focuses on educating the mind. The Christian education model focuses on educating the heart and you can only do that in a safe environment which allows for the exploration of such matters. Here's an example based on a true story.

The Significance of a Safe Environment
On a FUMCO Sunday morning in a Christian education class, a youth posed a heartfelt question. "Can I pray and will God speak to me? Can I have a vision of God like others had in the Bible?" As we began exploring scriptural answers, peers who did not know the one posing this question began to snicker. Perhaps they were uninterested or simply uncomfortable by the subject matter. Did they know their peer posing the question? No. The exploration of the question was over and the message communicated that day was "It isn't safe to lay your heart out in the open in this place at this time".

Challenges and Solutions
Consider our Christian Education time on a FUMCO Sunday morning. How do we make that environment safe to explore matters of the heart? Our spiritual journeys? First, we let's examine the challenges we face on Sunday morning.

A. Turnover. Sunday morning group dynamics change every single Sunday morning and this turnover makes it very difficult to create the safe environment built on relationships that we need to succeed. The reasons for the turnover? The list is long. Other commitments to extracurricular activities, jobs, family activities and you can add to the list.
B. Time. Remember, the school system model does not need to educate on a relational foundation. A one hour format can succeed. In a Christian education class with high turnover there must be time to build relationships. To then offer a quality educational model not based on lecture but on an experiential model takes more time then one hour.
C. Different Individual Needs.
D. Reducing the duplication of lessons.

Offering an Outstanding Program is Important But Still Not Enough
Did you ever see the movie "Field of Dreams"? "Build it and they will come". Quality programming matters. Still, it does not change the fact that the foundation for youth ministry is built on relationships. Quality programming alone is not enough. World class speakers and entertainers like Dayton Edmunds or Bob Morley are not enough. Youth always want to know 2 things. What are we doing but more importantly, who is going? Belonging comes before believing.

Leadership and Ownership
Being in a small group is today your best opportunity for leadership and ownership of our ministry together. In the past, we were able to hold monthly gatherings to develop youth leadership and ownership from a variety of perspectives. Through it all youth learned to negotiate, compromise, listen and collaborate together on creating our ministry. That element has been missing from our ministry for the past couple of seasons. Again, the ever increasing demands of family schedules & commitments have made our attempts to gather for leadership team meetings unsatisfactory. We should be able to improve leadership and ownership with our new small group format.

Sr. High-The New World
Research shows that every church faces the challenge of keeping their Sr. High actively involved. And what that research also shows is that they need three things. A strong sense of belonging, meaning and competence. The typical Sunday morning & Sunday evening program doesn't provide those things in face of the demanding schedules of the 21rst century family. Small groups are designed to meet those needs!

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