It goes without saying that not all church youth groups are created equally. Some are awful and even dangerous. Being associated with a church does not make it immune to human failings and disastrous consequences. Mishaps occur at the same rate for church camps as they do for any other summer camp. Snake and scorpion bites happen. Bees get busy. Mild cases of food poisoning are practically inevitable. It’s camp, nature, and kids. We know exactly what can go wrong.
Church-based youth groups are about more than summer camp. Many churches don’t even participate in camp. Most congregations of more than 70 people have some sort of youth initiative, even if it is not a formalized part of the church. There are Sunday school teachers who work with the kids every week. When there is any sort of field trip for the church youth, there is usually someone tasked to chaperone. These churches have unofficial youth groups that can be just as good as formal youth groups with paid youth ministers on staff. Just because a church has a bigger program, it doesn’t make it better. So if size is not a factor, what is? Here are a few things to look for when selecting a church youth group for your kids:
A Group That Respects Parental Authority
Parents have different views on all manner of things with regard to the health and wellbeing of their children. It is hard to find two that agree on matters such as thumb sucking: something all kids do. The only thing they agree on is that at some point children need to stop doing it. You can often find some agreement on thumb sucking remedies when you look for reviews on thumb sucking devices.
Whatever remedy you choose has to be respected by the program leaders. They might have their own way of doing it. Or they might ignore it altogether. Either way, you want a youth program that respects your decision and solution rather than setting it aside for their own. You might have a rule that your child is not allowed to have sugary candy. Some Sunday schools give out candy as a reward. You might find this practice to be in conflict with your wishes. So be sure to check the policies and confirm that you have the final word when it comes to your child.
Values that Agree with Yours
One of the main reasons parents have their kids join church groups is to learn a sense of values. It is almost certain that whether directly or indirectly, your kids will learn values from their church. The key is to make sure the values you are teaching them are being reinforced rather than counteracted.
Have a conversation with the youth minister before placing your child in a program. Make sure the church’s position on things like racial and gender roles align with yours. If you have older kids, ask about how subjects like politics and sexuality are handled. What you should never do is assume that just because it is a church, their beliefs and teachings will run in a certain direction. No judgement, here. Your values are your values. Just be sure you choose a church that is in line with the values you hold most sacred.
If the church leaders are treated as if they walk on water and if they have too much unchecked power, don’t walk, run away. Experts in church matters are wondering out loud if accountability has disappeared from the church. There are plenty of churches that do a good job with leadership accountability. Look for those and avoid the rest.
Reputation is a big deal. Don’t ignore scandals involving high-profile pastors. When a church’s profit margin and membership numbers are more important than the safety of the members, that church has lost its way. One good metric could be looking back and seeing how churches dealt with the pandemic in 2020. The way a church handled that situation of global crisis is a good indicator of whether or not you want them to have influence over your kids. When the chain of accountability is not evident, keep looking for a church where it is.
Your kids can grow exponentially when in a good church youth group. Just be sure it is one that recognizes the primacy of you as the parent. Check to see if their values are in alignment with yours. And insist on knowing the chain of accountability.