All over the UK, Church-based Youth clubs are providing entertaining, safe spaces for thousands of young people. They are often a crucial part of and a vital resource for communities. For Christians it is also a great place for us to engage with young people and their parents, telling them about the good news of Jesus.
Are you thinking of starting a youth club or already got one up and running but need a few tips? Read on to find out more about youth clubs.
I love youth clubs, they are a great place to engage with young people and build relationships with them. Whether it’s bonding over a game of football, a quick chat whilst eating chocolate fondue or an in-depth conversation with a young person about their life and God, youth clubs offer us a place to meet young people where they are and engage in their lives. 2 Corinthians 5:20 speaks of being Christ’s ambassadors, a youth club is a great setting for us to represent God and implore people to ‘be reconciled to God’.
We can informally educate young people through showing them how to behave, treat others and live like Jesus. As non-Christians see us respond to events and treat people in a Christlike way they will often be surprised and ask questions, giving us a great opportunity to talk about our faith. For Christians they can see, through our actions, how they can become more like Jesus, this is one way we can carry out the Great Commission and make disciples of the young people we come into contact with.
Before starting a youth club you will need to organise a few things.
Firstly, you will need registration forms for each young person that attends. These should include their name, any allergies or medication they are taking, plus the name and contact details of at least one adult and the child’s doctor. Note whether parents/guardians are happy for their child to be given medical treatment if they can’t be contacted, and you may wish to ask if the parents are happy for photos to be taken and used in advertisement. You may also like to ask if the child is allowed to walk home on their own or if they will be collected. Keep these registration forms in a file and keep the file locked away when not in use as per data protection guidelines.
Secondly, you will need to put together a team of helpers. Although it might seem easier for you to run the youth club yourself and simply have volunteers turning up to ‘help’, by spreading the work you are helping the volunteers feel ‘ownership’ for the club and making the club more sustainable in the future should you not be able to run it. At our youth club we have 2 main leaders who meet regularly to discuss the future of the group and oversee each session, we also have helpers who are in charge of one activity. For example, one helper is in charge of preparing a craft, one in charge of stocking the tuck shop, one person sets up in the daytime etc.
The government guidelines are that to every 8 young people you have attending the club you have 1 adult helper (there must be at least 2 adults present at all times). This should help you to work out how many helpers you will need. If you will be using multiple rooms for your club it is advised that you have 2 helpers in each room.
You will also need to decide how many children you think it is safe to have in your building. You will probably have a figure of people allowed in your building issued to you with your buildings insurance but this may be a much higher number than you feel you can deal with. You may hold your youth club for around 10 children in one room, although legally you could run this with only 2 adults you may feel that you would rather have more helpers. The adults helping will all need to have a clear DBS check.
Thirdly, you should decide on some club rules and write them down so that the young people know what you expect of them. A discipline procedure is a good thing to put in place too. For example, we use a 2 warnings system where if young people do not hold to the club rules they will be given a verbal warning. If they are given 2 warnings in a half term they will be asked to miss a week of club and their parents will be informed.
Fourthly, you will need to check the building is safe and suitable for the work you want to carry out. Making sure chairs aren’t stacked too high, there are no wires laying on the floor and the toilet and kitchen facilities are suitable.
Once all of the above is in place you’re ready to start your youth club. Schools are a great place to advertise your events but we’ve found that most young people come through word of mouth. This means that although you may find you don’t have many young people attending to begin with after a while you may find yourself inundated with them! Our youth club started with around 10 members and at year 4 we had to cap the numbers at 80.
There are so many fun activities you can do at your youth club- table tennis, football, dvd, tuck shop, crafts, group games, tournaments, prayer spaces, challenges, computer games etc. We find that a lot of young people like to sit and chat so it’s important to us that at least one member of the team is sitting with them, this is how we build relationships with them and how we can bring God into the discussions. We have a few table games and simple card games which they can play from their seats. Food and drink is a real draw- we have a station where they can make their own hot drinks and a tuck shop where they can buy some snacks.
Other young people will need activities to keep them busy this is where things like football and table tennis come in. Simple craft activities are often a hit as well as minute to win it challenges and tournaments using the air hockey, table football or whatever else you might have. If you lead the activities to begin with and encourage the young people to get involved you may find they soon take on the responsibility of running it themselves. For activities where there is a possibility a child could get hurt write a risk assessment, this ensures that you have done everything to minimise the risk of injury and will help you to know what to do in the event of an accident.
Seeing as these are Christian youth clubs a prayer space is a really informal way to introduce God into the club. You might have a prayer box where the young people can write down their prayers and know that the leaders will pray for them later. You could also use a simple prayer activity with clear instructions to help show the young people how to pray. Many prayer activities can be found online and once you have a few to hand you can rotate them.
You may like to include an epilogue or ‘God slot’ in your youth club, this could be optional in a separate room or for the whole group. You may find discussion about a moral issue based on a bible passage works best with your group or a bible based talk.
As cyber bullying is becoming more prevalent in todays’ society you may decide that you want to ban phones from your group, or you may have rules about how young people are allowed to use phones at your club, for example ‘no taking photos or videos of people at youth club’.
When you start your club send out a letter to parents clearly explaining the times of the group, the activities that will be available (clearly state there will be a bible based discussion if there will be one), the club rules, your discipline procedure and how the parents can contact you if they have any questions.
When the club starts make sure you have a list of helpers and a list for the young people to sign in. In the event of a fire you will use this list to make sure everyone is out of the building. It is useful to have someone keep an eye on any exits to assure no one leaves the building without a leader knowing. At the end of the club when children leave the premises it is important that young people leave with their parents/guardians if they are not allowed to walk home by themselves. To this end have at least two helpers by the main doors checking each child that leaves and perhaps consider asking parents to come inside the building to collect their children. At our youth club we first let the young people who can walk home on their own leave, then we ask the other children to line up at the inside doors. The parents wait in the foyer and 2 leaders stand by the main doors. As we see a child’s parents we call them and they leave. This insures at least two people have checked that a child has left with the correct adult.
Not only does a youth club help you to get to know young people but it can also aid in getting to know their parents. You could start while the parents are waiting to collect their children, tell them something nice their child has said or done. You could hold a ‘tea’ where parents come along to the youth club to see what the young people get up to, you could offer tea and cakes or a full meal and invite siblings too. This is a great opportunity to invite parents to other activities in the church or Sunday morning services.
REFLECTION & LEARNING
In my experience, intentionality is an important part of this process of discipleship. As youth leaders, we must be intentional in the way we interact and build relationships with young people. We must have the expressed goal of showing young people the love of Jesus and in teaching them how to love like Jesus. This also means that every time we are with young people—whether a youth event, weekend away, watching a football match etc. we must be intentionally teaching them. I don’t mean that we must always be pulling out our bibles and pointing out some verse that shows why some TV show character ought not to have done what they did. I mean that when we are with young people, they are always looking to us as their teachers, their role models, and so we should act accordingly.
This does not mean that we have to be perfect, even if we strive to be. I have had numerous times in my ministry when I’ve gone home from a youth event completely upset with myself for the way I acted
towards a young person. It is extremely challenging work to build relationships with young people. But God has called us to this work, and given us a command to make disciples, so we continue to strive to love them just as Jesus loves them.
It is also important that we continue to learn as we are trying to teach. As I’ve already mentioned, none of us are perfect, and so there is always more to learn. There are always ways we can become more like
Jesus, in the ways we think and act.
Continue to read the bible and learn what it says.
Continue to pray and communicate with God on a daily basis.
Continue to talk to your own teachers and mentors in your church.
These are all things that will greatly benefit your relationships with young people. As an example, I have found that the more Scripture I read and know, the better I am able to answer a young person’s difficult questions about their life.
It is vital that we review our work regularly- find out what is and isn’t working. We meet once a term to evaluate the club and once a year we meet with all our volunteers so they can offer feedback and suggestions on how to improve. You might like to visit other youth groups to see how they run but remember each group is different and what may work for one group may not work for yours. Ask the young people what they would like at youth club, it will give them ownership of the group and help them to feel included if you use their ideas.
For some great ideas for fun activities try Pinterest
For some brilliant bible teaching resources try the Urban Saints resource, Energize, they have some great short talks and discussion plans for Christian and non Christian groups.