Thursday, May 10, 2012

Safety


Safety is a huge issue and as a parent I understand the need to feel that my children are safe. I also understand that we can make youth group safe to a certain degree. Just like schools, you can't control every student at every moment. We can't control everything that they say or do. We, as a ministry, can only provide a safe environment. Youth group is open to every student no matter what background they come from or the baggage they may bring. Why? This is what Jesus expects and the model he gave us by his very own example.


Here is what we do as a youth ministry at Nags Head Church:
Background checks on the adult volunteers. Surprisingly I have run into parents who wanted us to do background checks on the kids who come to youth group. That is first of all impossible and not legal. If we carried that logic to it's end we would background check everyone in church on Sunday, we would check everyone our child goes to school with, we would run checks at the door of Wal Mart. We do background checks on every adult that serves with our students. This protects the students, the church and the volunteer. 

Confined space. We have a clearly defined space where our students are under supervision. Students aren't allowed to roam throughout the church building. We aren't clueless though and we do understand that even in a confined space a student can still say or do something in a moment that is out of our control.
Ratio of adults to students ratio of about 1 to 5. The more adult volunteers ministering to students, sitting with them, talking with them, hanging out with them, the better. Lone Ranger youth ministry is setting one's self up for problems. Does this mean we catch everything that happens? No, that would be an impossibility.
Correction and Guidance. If we see or hear a student do or say something wrong we step in and make a correction and give the students some guidance on how they should behave. The key is we, the adults, have to see it or hear it. 
Seasoned veterans. Our team has several seasoned veterans. It's great to work with others who have experience in ministering to students and dealing with teenagers. Experience is great but experience isn't "insurance".
Bully Policy. If a student is a bully or physically acts out they are put on suspension from youth group, each is case specific. We have only had to do this twice in 11 years. We try to work with the students but if they are a danger to another student physically or emotionally we have to look out for the group as a whole. We can't sacrifice the group for one.
Spiritual Safety. We make sure we only teach what lines up with our church doctrine and theology. Many parents attend NHC or bring their teens to youth group because they align themselves with what we believe as a church. For us to teach anything different from the church's theology or doctrine would be damaging. 
Love and encouragement. This is the "biggie". Students need to feel loved and we, the team, need to show as much encouragement as possible. Encouraging others doesn't come naturally to me, I have to make a conscious effort to be an encourager. Students walk through our doors each week who receive no love or encouragement at home during the week. We need to be that "safe" place where they are shown the love of Jesus Christ and encouraged in their life and faith.
Clear Expectations. We have expectations of students when they are with us at youth group or on a youth event. We don't have a huge list of rules and we don't run around like a drill instructor. Youth group has to be fun or students won't want to return and they certainly won't bring their friends if they feel like they are constantly under "the thumb".  Our expectations are simple and short. Where we may fail in this area is we probably don't review them enough with the students.  It's not something we want to "preach" each week but certainly want to touch on them occasionally.  Example: One expectation is no cell phone use unless calling a parent for a ride. If we see a cell phone out we ask the student to put the phone away.  If there is a continual problem we collect the phone and give it to them when they leave.  Our regulars know this. There are some expectations we point out along the way.  We don't expect a first time guest to "fall in line" with all of our expectations.  We also don't expect unbelievers to behave like believers.  We do expect believers to behave like believers.
Perfection.  We haven’t reached perfection in the safety area, not really sure that any youth group (or school) has either.  We do the best to our ability to keep students safe.  If a parent is looking for a perfectly safe environment for their child they won’t find one, even at home.  Sitting students in chairs in rows without allowing them to interact or have fun isn’t safe, it’s sterile.  Sterile doesn’t promote growth, sterile doesn’t have teachable moments.
What does your youth ministry do to be “safe”?

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