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Phones at Youth Group

A youth worker friend of mine recently asked a group of other youth workers, “How do you keep students off their phones at youth group?”

There was a diverse set of responses from “I don’t allow teens to have cell phones on during our youth group time” to youth workers that use cell phones during the lesson times.  Here were two of the more creative responses.

Student Covenants

In one youth group, the youth pastor takes students through a discernment process whenever an issue arises that is a distraction from the groups goal or purpose.  Cell phones became a distraction about 6 years ago during their lesson times.   The youth pastor gathered all the students before one of their meetings.  He made them aware of the issue by stating it in a clear way.  He said, “We’ve begun to use our cell phones during our lesson time together and it has become a distraction from our goal of learning from one another and God’s word.  How can we resolve this distraction from our lesson time?”

The students kicked around ideas like turning the phones to silent, not bringing phones to youth group, or not using the phones at youth group.  They discussed the implication of each and found issues with communicating with parents when an emergency arises and getting rides home.  Then one student suggested that they adopt a family practice of putting all of their cell phones into a basket before their lesson time.  The phones would be placed in a cabinet by one of the adult volunteers and everyone would get them after the lesson.  The adults and students consented to the rule and it was still in place 6 years later.

The benefits to this approach are:

  • Students learn to value  the goals or purposes of the youth group.
  • Students are able to reason through the consequences of rules.
  • Students learn that rules help us to value and honor things and not just hinder us.
  • Students learn a process of discerning a solution in a group with different opinions and perspectives.
  • The whole group lives by the rules they create for themselves, teaches teens the way a society governs itself.


One youth worker has a group of teens with several smartphones.  Instead of trying to keep teens away from their smartphones, she decided to incorporate phones into their youth group times.  She encourages teens to tweet about the lesson, send prayers and scriptures they are studying to Facebook and post pics to a youth group account.

The most interesting part is their use of games.  The teens stay connected with each other because they are constantly playing multiplayer and group games on their smartphones inside and outside the youth group.  From “Words with Friends” to “Party Games” when they’re together, the youth group never really starts conversations with each other rather they just have one on going conversation.

The benefits of this approach:

  • Students experience a high sense of connection.
  • Relationship building is a central part of their group.
  • Students extend what their learning to their social network.
  • Parents can see images and status updates of what their teens are doing at youth group.
  • Students are learning to integrate technology into their practice of their faith.

What is your youth group’s stance on phones during meeting times?  How are they used or not used?

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Paul Sheneman is an author, speaker and youth pastor. He serves with the Macedonia Methodist Church in Ohio. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good. His main interest is exploring Christian formation. You can follow most of his ramblings on his blog at www.discipleshipremix.com or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.