Supporting young people after the Summer.
The summer can be lots of things for a young person. As someone who works in schools, I know that the transformation of a child over that six week summer period can be astonishing! Teachers will often comment on how their quiet, adorable year seven class have come back from six weeks of summer holiday grown into surly, unmanageable teenagers! For a Christian young person the change can be even more dramatic, especially if they have been spending time at a summer Christian conference or camp. Though they may only have been away for a short period of time – maybe even just a weekend, or maybe they have attended a church holiday club – a significant change may have taken place inside them, and they could have taken a significant step in the journey with God. As leaders and parents and church members, it is all of our responsibility to nurture these signs of growth. Here are a few ideas I have for how we can help support children and young people who come out of the summer with a reignited passion for Jesus.
** (These ideas are most applicable for children and young people from about year 5 up to year 11. If you are looking for ideas for younger children I don’t discuss them here, but I am happy to if you would like to get in touch directly.)**
Ask them what they want.
One of the best things we can do for our young people is listen to them. Let them tell you about what was the most exciting and engaging thing about their experience. When I came back from my first big Christian conference experience as a ten year old, the one thing that had been most exciting and transforming for me and how I felt about God was the worship. What I wanted, and needed, though I did not know it at the time, was to spend more time worshipping God in that way. I was very fortunate to have a church leader who recognised that, and also the fact that a small group of us loved to sing. Our leaders quickly made a way for us to sing more modern, youth-oriented worship music. There are so many different things that your young people might have really enjoyed about their experience and be looking to replicate: I have had young people come back from holiday clubs having really engaged with the bible and wanting to continue that through regular bible studies, or wanting to get involved with fundraising for different social action causes they had learnt about. Asking them what they want and listening to them is the first step.
Build on friendship groups they may have developed.
Nothing cements young friendships like some camping in the rain or staying up late after the leaders have fallen asleep! Having taken previously disparate groups of young people away and watched the bonds between them appear over a very short space of time, I know how wonderful it can be for a leader to see the group come together in a new way. I also know how disheartening it can then be to then watch the group dissolve back into the way it was before a trip – perhaps cliquey, and slipping into familiar friendships that make it difficult for new children to be involved in the community. We can perhaps help avoid this by planning group events that reflect the environment that bonded them together. How do we find out what that is? We can ask them what ways they most enjoyed hanging out together whilst they were away – what were the group activities they most enjoyed doing together? When I took a group of young people away we did D+M (Deep and Meaningful discussions) in the evening outside the leaders tent, and this was one of the things they most enjoyed about their time away. It bonded unexpected disparate friendship groups, and then when we returned I was able to continue these bonds with a “D+M bible study.” A group of boys who had previously shunned connecting with a group of girls who were more open to discussion were now comfortable enough to attend the bible study and share their thoughts. This is how we can harness the friendships built over the summer to grow a community that will support our young people and children.
Help them keep connections they have built with other groups.
The great thing about national conferences or holiday camps, is that they allow children and young people to mix with other people of faith outside of their church. One of the great things we can do as leaders is help them keep these connections.The bonds that young people make at these events and the friendships that blossom can be intense and incredibly significant for the coming years. When I was thirteen I made a friend at a Christian camp who supported me intensely throughout my teenage years, and my youth group supported her too. There was not a strong youth group where she lived, and even though she lived several hours away, our youth leader had the foresight to see that she was an important addition to the community we had built at summer camp – she was always welcome when she visited us. Perhaps your young people have made connections with another local group, or a group across the city. Perhaps you can reach out to their youth leader to arrange a joint event, or you can suggest to your young people that they invite their friends to an event you host. If you need help with this kind of thing, we at CiST can definitely help you. We have access to a large network and community and would be excited to support any leaders who want to bring groups together. Allowing our young people to connect with others outside of their immediate community can be one of the ways we can help them grow a wider support network.
But what if the opposite has happened to my young people? What if our young people have not grown closer to God, but have moved further away?
This might be a very pressing question for some of us. Often the summer can be a fallow period for the youth and children’s work in a church. Many services become frequently unattended over the summer due to the holidays, and youth and children’s groups are often depleted in both attendants and leaders. This can mean that sometimes, come September, a young person has inadvertently not met with the community of their peers, or had any bible study or input, for many weeks. It can be even easier for young people to drop the habits of attending groups and meetings. For a leader, I know it can be difficult to keep going after the summer holiday drop off. How can you revitalise a group that might have grown apart over the summer period? One of the things we can do encourage our young people and children to come back to group and get more involved again, is to start the new term off with a bang and a shout. We can put on start of term events, something more laid back and social that will encourage those children and young people who are feeling disconnected from church to come back into the group. Then it might help to start a new series, something that gives the new term a framework and a sense of refreshment. We can direct you to some of the best resources.
There are lots of things we can do, and if you find yourself in a position where you are struggling to reignite your group or wondering how you are going to bring your children and young people back together, please get in touch. We can offer advice and support and help, and I would be happy to chat with you about it.
It’s important for us to remember at all times that the future of all of our young people is held completely in the hands of our heavenly father. Though each summer may bring for them wonderful changes as they grow up and enter yet another year of school, Christ holds them in the palm of his hand, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Anything we can do at CiST to support you and the young people and children of your church as you move forward after the summer, please let us know. We are getting ready for the new school year, and full of ideas! We hope you are too.
Let us pray that these weeks of summer have been enjoyable, restful, and hopefully, transformative for all the young people we love and serve.