We are Family: Fostering a Family Culture Within Your Youth Ministry

There is a saying that is heard around my church and youth group from my lips often – we are family!  And I mean it. And they know I mean it. From the students to the Serve Staff (what we call our volunteers) they believe it.  But how do you create that culture? And how do you sustain it?

Here are some of my thoughts and experiences in a short list of actions that we implemented to help create this family culture in our ministry. We are not perfect at it, and this is not a complete list, in fact if there are other ideas that are not on this list and I would love to hear about them! But for those of you looking to try and create that family environment, here are four tips from a fellow youth minister.

1. Preach the gospel

This may seem obvious, but this is the most important thing. We cannot hope to have our students and leaders feel that we are family and believe that we are family if we do not preach the truth behind the family.  All family units have core beliefs and structures and I believe the core belief behind what truly makes a family feel like a family is love. And we cannot have love without the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They need to hear what real love is. Over and over again they need to let it wash over them.  They need to sit in the tub of the gospel and get all prune-y from it. Without the gospel, we can’t be family. Without Jesus, we can’t love like we should. He is our example. Show them that we are all the same at the foot of the cross.  We are all wretched, black hearted sinners that need a Savior.  And we are all walking this discipleship journey together. That’s where the family culture starts.  It starts at the cross.

2. Pray for it, on your own and with your leaders

Someone smarter than me once said, “What you pray for is what you look for, and what you look for is what you find.” I really like that. Have you prayed about your culture? Have you invited your leaders to pray with you?  Pray! The power that is needed to create or change the culture in your youth room is only in God’s hands. We should be asking Him to move. And I believe when you do, you will start seeing a change.

3. Use words to help you move your culture

It’s crazy how connected the words we use are with the culture we create.  If you want to be a family, start saying that you are. And say it a lot. Add other phrases that create the family vibe you want to have. One phrase we say is that “this place is a place you can be fully known and fully loved. Fully known, the good the bad the ugly, and yet still fully loved.  Christ fully knows us, all of the stuff we try to hide, and yet still fully loves us.  And we want to be like Christ.  So we say we can be fully known here and fully loved. What do you want students to know about themselves, about you, about the church? Speak those things!

In our Serve Staff huddles we talk about what a win looks like. Use that as an opportunity to build the culture. Share wins of students feeling like family, and invite them to look for those wins and foster those wins. When you start looking for things, you start seeing them.

4. Learn names quickly and use them often

This may seem trivial, but I believe whole heartedly it is a contributing factor to the family culture we have.  And I think Dale Carnegie would agree with me.  A person’s name is the sweetest sound to their ears.  So why would we not learn it and say it! And when they come back, we remember it!  I don’t need to tell you guys this, but students are the loneliest they’ve ever been. They just want to be seen and known. So, let’s see them, and know them. 

This may take work, but it’s worth it.

Let’s show intentionality and effort in getting to know them, and caring about them. Not just the youth group as a whole, but each one individually. Emma, Dan, Olivia, Taylor… let’s know them as students with hopes and dreams, with joys and pains, with families and names. 

Yes, there are tons more things I could say on this topic, but these were the ones that came to mind and are a part of our DNA. I love you, fellow youth workers, and I am praying that this blesses you and that your youth group becomes a family.