Michael Henderson is a campus Youth Pastor at Faith Church Casey, he has been Youth Pastoring and serving in Youth for years and is part of leading a significant Youth Ministry in Melbourne.
As Youth pastors and leaders we all know that the key to growing the people under us is to build relationship and then use our influence in that relationship to speak into their lives. The more we deposit into their world, the more we can speak into them and see them grow.
Therefore one of the main focuses of a youth Pastor/Leader is to make long lasting memories with our kids. The type of moments that kids will remember for the rest of their lives. For a lot of us, this can be a daunting task. I know from my own experience that I often felt I had to be something that I am not, simply because I thought the kid would find that more appealing, or I spent crazy amounts of money on an awesome day to win over their trust. However, while these things have their moments and are sometimes needed, we do not need to carry the stress of constantly trying to impress our youth kids.
You see if we actually study the brain activity of our youth and learn exactly how memories are formed, then we find that there is an easy formula to making a lasting impression on our kids. In my experience I have found that we just need to do two things, be unpredictable, and do things in groups.
Scientific studies have shown that our brains are constantly trying to predict what is about to happen next. Subconsciously our minds try and guess the outcome of an situation so that it can prepare the body to deal with that situation. Anytime that we come across a new experience our brains freak-out because it was unable to accurately predict the outcome. As such, our brain forms a memory, so that it can learn from the new experience and try to predict the same outcome later. This is why if I was to ask you how your very first day at your current job was, you would be able to tell me a pretty accurate account of that day. Even if that day was a long time ago. Yet, if I was to ask you what happened at your job last week, you would have a harder time telling me. The reason is that over time your brain has learned to correctly predict what is going to happen at work. So because of this, the brain stops creating long lasting memories.
This is also the same reason why we can so clearly remember any holidays that we have been on. When you are on holiday, your brain is encountering so many different things and as such, creating a lot of new memories. If we understand this, it can really help how we create memories in our youth ministries. If you play dodgeball at youth, it’s going to be a great time. However, the next time you play dodgeball, it’s not going to be as impactful. Although, if we play dodgeball but everyone is blindfolded, that is a totally new game and our brain is going to create a long lasting memory of it. They key is to keep changing things up.
I remember there was a time in my connect group where things were feeling a bit repetitive. So I decided that at the next meeting we were going to cook up 10 kilos of bacon. It was such a simple idea. It didn’t need a lot of planning, it didn’t use a lot of my energy, but it instantly kicked some life back into my connect group because none of my guys had ever seen a pile of bacon that big! Everyone thought it was awesome.
So, you do not need to keeping hosting bigger and bigger games, big games are awesome, but it is not sustainable to keep going bigger and bigger. Sometimes you just need to be simple, but unpredictable.
Do things in groups
Psychologists have found that our brain loves to make memories about moments where we laugh. It is pretty common that some of our best memories are from moments where we have been laughing the most.
To further this idea, studies have also shown that we are 30x more likely to laugh if we are in a group. How many times have we watched a funny movie by ourselves and we do not make an audible laugh. However, if we were to watch the same movie with our friends, everyone is dying with laughter. For whatever reason, our nature is to laugh when we have other people around us. This is one of the greatest tools that we as youth leaders have.
6 years ago I had a moment in my connect group where I was running out of ideas for games so I did something bold. I took my connect group down the local car wash and got them to wash my car. It seems like such a dumb idea but the guys thought it was amazing. Some guys were washing, some guys were vacuuming, some guys were cleaning tires. The craziest thing is that every single kid that was there still talks about that being one of the greatest moments ever in our connect group. The reason was that kids were spraying each other with water, making a competition out of who could clean the fastest. Cleaning is a boring task, but because we did it in a group it became a great memory with my youth.
So you don’t have to have the perfect day to make memories with kids. You don’t need to spend a crazy amount of money and you do NOT need to be someone that you aren’t. If you simply remain unpredictable and get the whole group involved, you can’t go wrong.