The following interview with Immanuel Lutheran Church and School, St. Charles, MO, offers details about gender-specific Bible study programs. Immanuel’s GUYS and GIRLS Bible Study Groups seek to share and reinforce that God has a lot to say about what it means to be a young man or a young woman, and that His definitions of gender make a lot more sense than those offered by the world. Listen in to learn more about how you can create similar groups for the guys and girls in your congregation!
thESource: What prompted you to develop these Bible studies?
Leon: GUYS/GIRLS provides an environment where questions can be asked, values examined, and faith shared; giving an opportunity to discuss important topics like dating, sexuality, friendships, and identity in Christ.
Gretchen: For girls, the need to provide a safe place where cliques can be broken, and where they can speak freely and confidently is a must. As a result of this group, I have seen girls come together in new ways, form healthier, less competitive relationships with one another and ease the tensions that can so easily exist among adolescent women.
GIRLS group allows the chance to explore the contrast between what God says and what the world encourages teen girls to believe about themselves. The confidence that comes from exploring these truths with other young women is a wonderful way to help girls begin to live a life worthy of the calling each of them has to serve their Lord and to live in His love.
thESource: How do the groups work? What is the focus of your study in each group? How do the groups have “fun”?
Leon: GUYS meets twice a month for two hours. At the heart, both groups share and reinforce that God has something to say about what it means to live as a young man or young woman in a world filled with relativistic rhetoric. Each session of GUYS consists of sharing “highs and lows” from the week, prayer requests, and a variation of a group builder. Then, the study begins!
Gretchen: Girls meets for two hours every two weeks. The topics generally revolve around principles for living, delving into the Bible’s description of women of faith, and applying the lessons learned to our own Christian walk. We have devoted entire sessions to purity and sexuality, self-image and worth. We spent six weeks defining godly friendships. Prayer time is a major focus for the group, and of course (with GIRLS group) we ALWAYS have food. Food is a must.
Leon: Also, creating relational, healthy environments where youth can see the unity and confidence that comes from a Christ-centered core of relationships is a big priority.
Gretchen: At the end of each year, several moms and I host a GIRLS group slumber party which involves lots of Bible study, chocolate, fun movies like Princess Diaries, etc. It is amazing to see girls who would NEVER have associated in their high school halls chatting like best friends.
Leon: GUYS has a good-natured commitment that everything said in GUYS stays in GUYS. If one of the guys “tells all” [especially to the GIRLS] they “get” to bring a White Castle Crave Case to the next meeting. The guys think this is great! You know guys; they love food, especially free food, and especially free burgers!
thESource: What changes have taken place within your program (quantitative and/or qualitative) with this approach?
Gretchen: When we began this program at Immanuel, we shared that this would be Bible intensive. We thought we would draw smaller crowds to GUYS and GIRLS group, especially considering that it is a mid-week commitment to two hours of Bible study and discussion.
Leon: But the opposite happened. Attendance was great! Our Sunday morning Bible class is only 45 minutes long, which isn’t enough time to dig “deep” into Scripture. GUYS and GIRLS group allows for an extended time to explore Scripture in a faith focused environment. This really seemed to attract the youth, especially those who tend to be spiritual leaders at other youth events.
Gretchen: I have noticed a dramatic shift in how the girls relate because of this group. The older girls have learned the importance of being a role model for the young girls and there is more nurturing and care extended. I have seen our young women make more determined efforts to share their faith with their peers in the high schools, they are phenomenal about bringing new girls to the group each and every week.
thESource: Why is this style of Bible study so effective in reaching youth?
Gretchen: These studies break the norm of what is “expected” by allowing youth to consider themselves in the context of others “like them.” Youth start to see that their problems and joys, frustrations and hurts are not as isolating as they may seem.
Leon: The heart of what makes these studies effective is that they are centered in relationships. Both Gretchen and I are intentional in nurturing relationships within the group and ultimately each student’s personal relationship with their Savior.
Gretchen: Moreover, the youth learn that the ONLY relationship that will ever bring them fulfillment is the one they have with Christ. These groups provide community, structure, a connection with the other youth and even adults at Church, which helps the youth see their role in connection with the larger picture of the Church.
thESource: How do you share this Bible study with the youth of the congregation and beyond?
Leon: Kids are the primary “voice” for the group. They are given postcard-sized calendars to give to friends. These postcards provide students an inroad to share GUYS and GIRLS with Christian and non-churched friends. We also put up posters at local high schools and churches to catch attention. And we use the typical methods: email, website, church bulletin, youth newsletter, youth e-newsletter.
thESource: Please relate a favorite story from one of your Bible study sessions.
Leon: At a GUYS meeting, a young man who had never attended before shared, “my Dad made me come.” I gave him some good-natured teasing and shared that even if Dad did “make him come” we were glad to have him. Since that meeting he hasn’t missed a session; he is one of our leaders and strongest promoters.
Gretchen: Last Christmas, the GIRLS group wanted to serve, so we decided to hold our Christmas party at the Bear Factory on historic Main Street in St. Charles (one of the moms is the proprietor). The girls worked to stuff toys for the Children’s Ward of the local hospital and then delivered the bears to the hospital. The moment was so full of community and fun. I believe the girls sensed that the group was developing in a new way, that [because of God at work in the group] their understanding of one another, their willingness to serve those they didn’t even know, and their insights into what the Lord desires of all relationships was transforming them.
thESource: How do your youth carry what they learn from Bible study into daily living?
Leon: There are challenges presented at the conclusion of each group meeting, sort of like homework. The youth encourage one another with these challenges. Sometimes it is as simple as praying for five people or be more involved. The emphasis is not on “work” or a “task” but on responding to what Christ has done for us as we go about the week.
thESource: How does this approach to Bible study connect to the mission of your youth ministry program?
Leon: Here’s our mission:
Our youth ministry exists to reach all youth, to connect them with other Christians, to help them grow in their faith, and to challenge them to discover their ministry and honor God with their life.
The five focus areas for this mission are:
- Reach- Evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those who don’t yet have a personal relationship with him. “Go and make disciples.” Matthew 28:18
- Connect- Fellowship happens when youth and families are known, cared for, held accountable, and encouraged in their spiritual journey. “Consequently you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of Gods household.” Ephesians 2:19
- Grow- Discipleship is the building up or strengthening of believers in their quest to be like Christ. “Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” Hebrews 6:1
- Discover- Ministry by meeting needs with love. Each believer using his or her God-given gifts for ministry.
- Honor- Celebrating Gods presence and honoring him with our lifestyle. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1
Both GUYS and GIRLS focus on all areas of this mission statement. Youth bring friends to sessions and non-churched youth are welcome. The youth connect with one another through a variety of fellowship activities during the meetings. They grow together through sharing stories, journaling, and reading Scripture. As leaders we seek to help youth discover their gifts and talents that can be used to the glory of God. In GUYS and GIRLS there are also opportunities to honor God and one another.
thESource: Do you have any advice for youth workers hoping to create a similar Bible study program for their youth?
Gretchen: More than in other studies, I feel adult leaders need to be comfortable with developing real relationships with the youth involved. The studies are discussion based, and require leaders willing to go where the group needs to go, not be “curriculum bound.”
Leon: And you must be intentional in establishing ground rules for the sharing that takes place. Encourage, support, and celebrate together. And, food is always important; youth love to eat. Also, bring in moms and dads who can share faith stories with students throughout the year.
Gretchen: And laughter is a must; laugh together, laugh often!
Published June 2005