Is it Wrong to Play Favorites in Youth Ministry?

Somehow we always feel guilty when we like one student more than another. Or when we spend more time with one of our small group members than we do with the others. But should we feel guilty? Is it wrong to play favorites in youth ministry?

My short answer: not necessarily.

I don’t think it’s realistic to want to spend the exact same amount of time with all our students, even if we’re a small group leader. Some students simply need more guidance, for instance because of pastoral issues. Some students may not want to spend much time with us because of various reasons. And there’s also the ‘click-factor’.

It’s natural to have more of a natural connection with some students than with others. Often we find ourselves drawn to students that remind us of ourselves, or students who face similar issues we have dealt with in the past. And that is fine, as long as we have clear goals in doing so and respect certain boundaries.

Let’s not forget that out of a crowd of followers, Jesus chose 72 to send out to do mission. But out of those 72, he chose 12 disciples he wanted to invest more time with. And even then he ‘favorited’ Peter, John and James and spent even more time with them.

Playing favorites then is not necessarily wrong.

It’s okay to play favorites in youth ministry when

You realize they have specific issues you can help with

You see certain talents or gifts (like leadership) that you want to invest in

You see they need extra time and attention, for instance because they lack that at home

You want to invest extra time in one or two students to disciple them

You are open and accountable about it and have the parents’ permission

You’ve prayed about it and are sure God’s on board as well

You don’t just pick the popular or gifted students to spend extra time with

Your other leaders and volunteers are doing the same with other students

You make sure every student is still seen and heard

It is wrong to play favorites in youth ministry when

You spend so much time with your favorite students that you don’t have time for anyone else

Your relationship with your favorites becomes exclusive to the point of creepy or dangerous

You spend time with certain students to avoid other responsibilities or to avoid being home

Your motive for spending time with them is anything else than evangelism or discipleship

There’s a wrong balance in the relationship and you end up being the follower instead of the leader

You only choose to spend time with the most popular students to appear cool and gain acceptance

You ignore others who need your time and attention

You have the urge to keep it a secret or feel there’s anything you need to hide

You give preferential treatment to you favorites in a way that excludes or hurts other students

As a small group leader and as a youth ministry leader, I’ve always had my favorites. I’ve always spent more time with certain students than with others. And I’ve never regretted it…How about you?

How do you feel about playing favorites in youth ministry? What have been reasons for you to send more time with certain students?

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Rachel Blom
Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com