Have you ever really thought about how to make a difference in the lives of the teenagers of your community? I’m talking about the students outside of your church walls. The students who will never, on their own, ever show up for one of your events or outreaches. Reaching these students can be done, but you might need to think bigger than you have in the past. You might need to consider what it takes not just to reach individual teenagers but to become a true resource for your community.
What if your church were known in your community as a place where teenagers could go to find hope, purpose, and community? It’s a big task. However, if becoming a true resource to your community is something that you and your church are passionate about, here are 10 steps to get you started.
Put your own ideas and plans aside
Survey your community
Meet with anyone who will make time for you
Interact with the students on the streets
Research the community stats and history
Prepare a Community and Gap analysis
Collect and print your findings
Pray over the felt and perceived needs
Plan what your involvement will look like
Put your plan to action
You may have an awesome, amazing, brilliantly innovative idea. But if it isn’t the right idea for the community, it makes little difference. Shelve any ideas until you do your homework.
What does your community really need? Or at least what do people in your community feel they need? To answer this, consider surveying three groups outside your congregation: Young people, parents/guardians of young people, and community leaders.
It’s essential to get the information from those who have it. Find out who else works on youth issues, what is being done, what has been done in the past, and what they would like to see in the future.
What you want is raw info from the demographic of people you’re hoping to reach (not your own youth group kids). Try bus stops, skate parks, and malls. Trade them a can of soda for a completed survey.
Spend time researching the community. You may be pretty familiar with the demographics of your community. But consider filling in any gaps in your knowledge. Check out census statistics, political structures, economic status, social-cultural background, and any stats on the religious climate.
It seems that many youth workers are not usually administratively minded. It’s OK. But what you need to do after collecting all this data is to sit down and compile all the research you have accumulated into one document. This way, you have a way to filter your ideas and to present your research to others.
Once you have a collection of your thoughts and research, take time to revisit the people you met with before and show them the information you have collected about the community. In doing this, you will demonstrate that you are interested in being a youth culture expert in their community. Doing so expands the possibilities of getting buy-in from those in the community. They also may be able to point out errors in your findings.
By the end of this process, you will have a good idea of what is happening in your community and what is probably missing, as well. Where is the right place for you to devote your time and resources? Where is God directing you?
Only now is it time to begin planning on how exactly you are going to address the specific needs you know exist in your community. Look for obstacles, budget concerns, and timetables. Have several plans.
You can’t plan forever. Get out there and make it happen.
Sound complicated? It’s not easy, that’s for sure. But if you are truly seeking to effectively meet the needs of the teenagers in your community, you owe it to them (and to yourself) to be armed with the right information. Wasting your time and energy meeting a need that may not even really exist is the last thing anyone wants.
By approaching the needs of the teenagers in your community using these 10 steps, you will be in an excellent position to mobilize resources to meet the needs of those teenagers outside of the influence of the church.