I’m preparing to finish my first year as a full-time paid youth worker. I’m reflecting back on the things I’ve learned this past year, and there are some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up. These might be helpful, particularly if you’re new to youth work!
1. Always always always carry a pack of playing cards. You never know when you might want them. They can be especially useful when meeting a young person informally. They can allow both parties relax and talk, and even laugh, but it also easily allows parties to spend times in silence without it getting awkward. Having something to do with your hands also lets many people relax and concentrate. Always carrying a simple pack of cards is a must.
2. It’s okay to hang out with the adults sometimes during church, particularly during the tea/coffee afterwards. Taking the time to get to know the young people’s parents is important. You don’t have to be best buds with them, but it helps them to trust you if they’ve had a few conversations with you. It also gives you a chance to get a better insight into the young people and their lives at home. All of this adds up to make your job a whole lot easier and effective.
3. If you’re relying on a team of volunteers to help with an event, firstly make sure you thank your volunteers after every session. It’s just common courtesy. Secondly try your best to ensure each volunteer gets time off. Get a rota going and encourage them to swap “shifts” if need be. Commitment scares people, if they’re given “breathing space” regularly it really helps attract volunteers and then retain them.
4. With young people environment is so important. How the room is laid out, what music is playing, what chairs are available, what the lighting is like… These are all factors that can make and break the atmosphere of a session. There are no universal rules as to what works, as every youth group is different, but here’s three basic common-sense tips: low-lighting is relaxing while bright lighting is energizing, chairs need to comfortably face the speaker (if you’re doing a group discussion that means circles), clutter creates stress but tidiness relaxes… A quick internet search can tell you more.
5. Routine is simply good practice. You don’t need anything as strict as a timetable, but following a common pattern in a session just helps the young people to anticipate what’s next and prepare accordingly. Imagine if you went away to a conference and you weren’t told which session lunch would follow? I know I’d be stressed out and would be less engaged with the seminars. Same with your youth. Familiarity does not breed contempt. Also, deviations from normal accepted patterns should be announced, if only to prevent young people interrupting something important to ask when snack time is.
6. A well-fed youth group is easily spoken to. Generally fuller-tummies = less mobile teenagers. If you have a time planned where silence, quiet discussion or reflection is expected of the young people, try to time it just after food. Half the work is done for you.
7. Engage with their music. I know it can be painful, but just do it. Young people, particularly teenagers are discovering all sorts of new feelings and opinions that are new to them. One of the main ways they’re learning how to feel about some situations is through their music. For instance, they might never have been cheated on, but still have incredibly strong views on it because a certain song about it is intense and moves them. Use their music. Tap into it. Quote the songs in your studies, encourage them to share their music at youth group and explain why they love it, listen to it with them and if need be challenge it. I guarantee you’ll get a better discussion on a topic centered around a song than you will with a power point slide.