The 'adult group'
For the first time ever, Youthwork opened up its doors for a one-day writers masterclass. Sixteen youth workers gathered from all corners of the country to share ideas, learn skills and to hone their craft. In the coming weeks we will be posting guest blogs from the attendees – here’s one from Annie Carter.
Picture the following scenario on a Sunday morning during the notices. The speaker at the front announces a special supper. ‘Any adults in church today? Yes you know who you are.
We know you all love Nigella Lawson, so we’re going to have a real treat for you next Saturday night with a special cordon bleu Nigella meal. Adults love to cook, so we’re going to ask that you concoct one of her signature dishes to bring along to the event, and we know you love dressing up for special occasions so this will be a strict black tie affair. Be as smart as you can, adults, you know you want to! And seeing as adults seem to like Jazz, we’ve hired a Jazz band to play at the event. What could be better? Eating a Nigella dish, dressed in your very best, while listening to groovy sounds of Johnny Coltrane? Don’t miss it, adults!’
It sounds utterly ridiculous to address the congregation in this way, doesn’t it? I would imagine that at least half the adults in the room couldn’t think of a worse way to spend the evening. And they most likely wouldn’t respond too well to the assumptions regarding their preferences or would protest about being pigeonholed. Yet maybe at times this is how some of our youth feel when they are constantly referred to as ‘the young people’ or ‘the youth group’. In reality, they are simply individuals, who want to be understood, acknowledged and accepted for who they are.
Looking out into a crowd of faces at a youth event, it’s tempting to think in generalities - we all do it from time to time: young people like this and that, do this and that, wear this and that. But maybe we need to notionally remove the ‘young’ out of the phrase and leave it at just ‘people’ – albeit people of a certain age going through a hormonal stage of adjustment.
The fact is that ‘youth’ does not encompass one, homogenous group of teenagers. Within this group you will find all kinds of personalities – from gregarious to exceedingly shy; all types of backgrounds - from well educated and well spoken to those with low ability and dodgy home lives; all types of appearance – from super cool and trendy to those who are geeky or not at all cool; plus a variety of temperaments – from easy going and laid back to highly strung or highly annoying. Basically, every type of person.
It is in the one-on-one conversations that we discover the heart of every individual and where positive relationships are built. And that is certainly a key factor in them coming back each week. Knowing that one of the leaders is interested in them and sees them as an individual – not just one of ‘the young people’ - is crucial for developing the spiritual and emotional health of the whole group. In a culture where the popularity and cool stakes are so high in social media settings, it’s of paramount importance that each individual in a youth group environment feels valued and listened to. After all, young people are essentially the same as the rest of us: people in varied forms.
Annie Carter is a freelance writer, volunteer schools worker and mum of three high energy sons. She's lived in Germany and the States but now resides in Cambridgeshire. She can rollerblade (not very fast).