God values community, so how can we nurture it?
Surely you have seen it: a roomful of young adults, perhaps even talkative ones, yet every head is bowed (and not in prayer). Blame technology or culture or whatever you like, but today’s teens have a remarkable knack for self-isolation. Granted, they still need and even crave human interaction, but much of their daily connections take place without face-to-face conversation. According to Pew Research and “chicagonow.com”, 92% of teens go online daily, and 74% are connected to Facebook. Instagram and Snapchat are also heavily used, and the average teen sends and receives at least thirty text messages every day. (Shannon Younger, 2015.). Clearly these kids want to be recognized and acknowledged and “re-tweeted” and “liked,” but more and more they find acceptance in a chat room before they seek it in a youth room. And let’s face it: adults aren’t always much better! We send instant messages to people that are five steps away, and we’d often rather shoot an email than approach someone in person.
Throughout the Bible, we see that God values relationship. He created us for one another from the very beginning: The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
God knows that we need one another: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).
God also knows that we need one another as a group. Churches have faced, do face, and will continue to face struggles of all kinds, and they are made up of imperfect people. However, God has created us to interact with and care for each other as a body. It is critical for a youth group (and especially the church at large!) to have a sense of devotion to one another and to look to God as the driving force behind it.
Whether brought together by sports affiliations, nationality, or mere life stages, people are driven into a group dynamic that feeds off shared motivation and mutual appreciation. We see this prominently woven through Scripture in various facets. It goes all the way back to the book of Genesis, really…the founding fathers of the faith (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) established families and tribes that became the people of Israel. These were God’s chosen ones. They became numerous together and got stuck in slavery in Egypt together and wandered in the wilderness in tents together. The individual groups and members had outlined duties, but basically they served and followed God as a broad group of believers.
Moving ahead to the New Testament, we see obvious need for community with Christ. He gathered around Himself twelve close friends as a team of helpers. He connected even more deeply within those twelve to His inner circle of three. And after He ascended He tasked the disciples with spreading the Gospel and remaining in community continuity. With the help of the Holy Spirit they did this in remarkable ways:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-27)
This is a beautiful picture of community fellowship and solidarity. This is the image of what we may see as “ideal church” characteristics and habits. We see the greatest picture of community, of koinonia, in their sharing in the Sacraments, in “the breaking of bread.” All Christian fellowship and community flows out of this Communion that we share in Jesus. And in the early church, we see sharing and devotion to each other. Obviously, even in that church there were sin struggles and issues to face (Ananias and Sapphira!). But the point is that God established a body of believers. They worked cohesively. And as the message of Jesus spread and Paul’s missionary work generated other new churches, a sense of community remained essential. Paul’s epistles kept him in touch with churches, but through those letters the apostle constantly exhorted people to remain connected to one another as a body of believers, and rooted in Christ:
And God placed all things under his (Christ’s) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Early church leaders recognized the importance of community and communication. They also understood the value of human contact. John says,
I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. (3 John 1:13-14)
Paul, Peter, John, and Timothy did not have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. Letters took weeks to reach their destination, and that was after the labor of using a scribe and scroll to transcribe a message. Even still, though, these early pastors knew the value of face to face interaction.
In our modern environments, we can easily keep in touch with people all around the world with a few keystrokes or tablet taps. Chat rooms and online “communities” can link us with people of similar interests or habits. But there is something to be said for the church. People from differing viewpoints or walks of life are in a way forced (prodded gently, perhaps, or grouped by necessity) together and driven to live conversation. This builds up community and strengthens us as believers and as people. For teens, this is perhaps even more essential. It is easy to hide behind a screen or avoid groups altogether, but as workers with youth we must make every effort possible to demonstrate the value of shared community. When we bolster friendships and encourage groups, we model the example of Christ as He lived, and we live out His commands.
Youth Leader Suggestions:
- Have a “check your tech at the door” box to encourage students to temporarily deposit phones and force (gently prod) genuine human interaction during Bible studies or events.
- If not already in place, establish “youth council” groups within groups to allow students’ input into the group and a voice in the workings of it.
- Incorporate into youth studies and activities those ever-popular, sometimes disgusting, always entertaining games that encourage laughter, engagement, and teamwork.
- For larger groups, break up into smaller “teams” or cohort groups to encourage individual relationships and help students get to know one another in a less intimidating setting.
- Encourage conversation with youth, whether through guided and directed conversations or group or one-on-one discussions. Model and explicitly teach the principles of quality listening.
Web page brimming with random team-building games and simple activities.
More ideas for fun games and challenges
Specific challenges to encourage team efforts and group problem solving.