Programs for Church Youth Groups

This question comes from TS in Michigan:

Question: Dear Sandra, I have just finished and enjoyed tremendously your book Protocol Matters. Thank you for writing it. On the back of the book, mention is made of your prior work with church groups and youth programs. Have you ever implemented a protocol training program such as the one described in your book in a youth group setting? If so, I’d love to hear about some of the ways that you facilitated the program. Did you still meet every day for a week? Did you meet once a week for five weeks? Was the program effective and well-received by the parents? Would you recommend that churches attempt such a program? Thank you for your time!  TS

Answer:  Dear TS   Thank you for writing and for your encouraging words.  My answer’s somewhat lengthy because I believe strongly in what you are doing. Others may wish to add comments from their experience since teaching young people about social faithfulness and appropriateness is greatly needed today.

Firstly: The program would work for a youth group but with a little tweaking.  My book uses the excellent model from Logos School, which was basically in place with dining, escort, and dress instruction for special event s on my arrival there. We broadened the scope and added new content from my past experiences, adding classes on social navigation, grooming, conversation, and dressing for success beyond high school. You can arrange its content to fit  any group. I’ll  share some ideas from my youth group days as you read on. Your approach will be determined by your group’s size, need, and ages.

I think the church must be involved in the matter of social behavior training. This includes manners and what to do and not to do.  Such instruction is a form of discipleship when based on Biblical precepts, and prepares young people for future life.  The right kind of protocol, provides trustworthy guidelines for relationships.  Kids need this.  Why?

The commandment to love and serve others (not always an easy task) moves us away from from our inherent pridefulness and selfishness. Discipleship flies in the face of today’s exaggerated “self-esteem” obsessions. Obedience to Christ satisfies the soul. It unseats destructive depression. With soaring suicide rates and other social ills among teens, the church must not leave her youth to flounder from lack of practical teaching. We learn in Corinthians that real love “does not behave rudely and does not seek its own…”. Good manners demonstrate respect and deference according to God’s rules of conduct. We look beyond our self and walk in true confidence (con/with + fides/faith). Discipleship definitely  includes the church’s youth.

As with any venture, prayer is a key.  Intercessory prayer from supportive parents lightens the leader’s load.  I open with prayer or ask one of the young men to take the lead and pray for us. God has perfect plans for every group—those we must seek earnestly. We remain dependent on Him because there is no “one size fits all” in respect to each situation and we want the freshness of the Holy Spirit’s administration.

For youth groups, once-a-week sessions are my preference rather than sequential daily classes, unless it’s a retreat. Weekly meetings, instead of bi-weekly or bi-monthly, provide continuity and allow for good focus amid busy schedules.

Weekly meetings have other major advantages. The instructional pace slows down since there’s not the time crunch that usually occurs in most school schedules and bi-weekly sessions.  We can present a thorough coverage of each subject and have more time to focus on Christ-like character development. This together with steady instruction in the application of etiquette and protocol manifests more strongly in the group’s attitudes, actions, and appearance. Students also benefit from increased discussion time with questions and answers–something they greatly enjoy. I should add that this open dialogue creates relaxed sessions where the two-way conversation facilitates a better understanding in everyone’s mind.

Ages make a difference when determining what to teach and in selecting a final event. So do the children’s backgrounds. If your group is younger–in middle school and in the dialectic age–and if they had little previous training in protocol, (which is often the case) begin with basics. Ask yourself, “Which basics manners will help them the most? What is the general need in their social behavior? Are they orderly? Rude? Polite? How do they treat each other? Do many in the group know how to show respect to elders and peers? How do they sit and stand?  What tone and type of speech do they use? How do they dress? What are their levels of interest?”  Your answers provide you with direction in approach and activities. My main goals strive to help them walk more worthy in the calling of the gospel and to understand how mannerly behavior impacts their faith, their witness, and their relationships.

When introducing manners to new timers start with simple rules of conduct. Show underlying reasons and Scriptural principles why such rules are good to follow. Consider beginning with the List of  Sixteen House Rules in the Appendix of Protocol Matters.  It presents a solid foundation for later protocol specifics.

Presentation matters. Make it interesting and interactive. (Youngsters weary of long lectures.) Youth groups are a joy to work with. Take advantage of their enthusiasm for discussion and questions, even when it means you temporarily set aside some of your prepared planned teaching material.  I like to implement practice in protocol and this we can easily do in our meetings. For example: Everyone needs to know how to express gratitude. After discussing why and how to write a thank you note,  ask each person to think of someone to whom they need to express thanks for something. Many in the group will think of family members, others think of acquaintances and friends. The kids enjoy designing and making the cards. Have them bring addresses and keep a phone directory on hand so forgotten addresses are handy. You’ll need extra stamps. Don’t be surprised when they want to send more than one thank you card–and let them go with it. You’ll find good supplemental resources and ideas in Sheryl Eberly’s 365 Manners Kids Should Know, Games, Activites, and other Fun Ways to Help Children Learn Etiquette  and Fred Hartley’s (et al) Teenage Book of Manners-Please!. Both provide more ideas than I can list here.

Another suggestion: Take advantage of teachable moments. Use actual situations as they happen.  One of my teens lost a sibling in a tragic circumstance. Our focus immediately changed. Discussing  the protocol of appropriate expressions of sympathy and concern took on new meaning.  Funeral etiquette, what to do or not, and the many issues surrounding an considerate response when death touches lives around us instantly became relevant. The flexibility to incorporate protocol in action opens the door showing our young people the safety net provided by good manners in real life situations.

Another thought: remember humorous stories ( including embarrassing moments) are good ice-breakers.

Many younger boys simply need to know how to become honorable young men and how Godly young men should behave. Dr. James Dobson’s Bringing up Boys and Douglas Wilson’s Future Men are two outstanding books that offer sound ideas on dealing with boys and their specific needs. Teenage girls (and younger) need early guidance in the virtues of modest, but nice, appearance and what is becoming in womanhood. Christian teenagers have battles to win that begin with their appearance and attitudes.

I’m not sure what age group you’ll be working with, but for high schoolers, even  if using less sophisticated materials and some cartoons to make a point, raise the standard for this older rhetoric level. They are bright.  Most have a great sense of humor. I view them as young adults.  With once a week sessions it can take a month or more of meetings to thoroughly cover each of the topics listed in Protocol Matters.  Take you time and move at their pace. Don’t forget to review at the start of each meeting.  Review is a necessity in weekly meetings. My notes are included in my bookuch of my material I used

Older students can use my book as a reference and guide. For younger teens, consider using the Christian notebooks, complete with a teacher’s guide by Emily & Wayne Hunter. You’ll find both Man In Demand and the Chrisitan Charm Course for Teenage Girls from Amazon or Harvest House Publishers. They provide a fun forum for study and discussion on appearance, attitudes, and posture for the dialectic ages.

This age group wants to know how to live, how true faith relates to all of life, and how Christianity applies to their everyday behavior, to their struggles, and to their challenges. They need to know that manners and appearance matter as they piece together the puzzle of life.

The program outlined in Protocol Matters, when adapted for youth groups, allows expansion in new directions. For example, in addition and prior to your group’s grand finale, consider having the group and their families, under your direction,   prepare and serve a nice dinner to a senior citizens or to a needy organization in your community. They can plan, prepare, and serve a dinner according to the informal or semi-formal setting shown in Protocol Matters.  This learning experience uses protocol to demonstrate Christ’s Love in serving others. Because most moms and dads want the good and the best for their children, you will generally have positive parental support.

Today’s parents are busy folk. Thus parents welcome any church sponsored program that re-enforces good demeanor and proper behavior in their children. Many dedicated parents realize that Christianity is not a Gnostic faith. They know it matters greatly what comes out of mouths, what goes on bodies, and what actions those bodies do. Modesty matters. Kind acts matter. Beauty, truth, and appropriateness matter.

For the best parental support, let parents know what you are doing and how it is based on Biblical precepts. Sometimes a parent, who missed protocol training in early life, does not fully grasp the deeper significance or immense benefit of this training. They don’t realize why we need to hold fast to Christian based manners–or what these manners even are.  Even so, when the instruction brings forth visible results parents recognize and gratefully recognize the improvement. If you have parents with time and a will to help you, but short on monetary resources, consider asking them to each prepare and serve one dinner course at their (or a relative’s) home for your group as a final event–or for a practice time. House hopping for each dinner course takes some extra planning, but is well worth the effort with the right people involved.

Lastly, I’m grateful for people like you who value the good etiquette passed down to us from previous faithful generations.  Protocol provides timeless boundaries that keep us from drifting into selfish inclinations and self-centeredness. Selfishness spoils. Self-focus corrupts. You are cultivating hearts towards respect, kindness, integrity, and righteousness (a.k.a. right ways) . Cultivated hearts are softer hearts, better able to receive planting of God’s Word. Wrong ways become bad habits (a.k.a. sins) that can harden hearts. Training in right directions toward the Son-light, with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, inclines the mind to the ways it should follow. Your contribution in this area for young people is important. Protocol matters!


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