Making Your Youth Ministry a Safe Place for Girls

Odds are that if you went to a youth group as a teen, the youth pastor was male.  Odds also are that the youth pastor at your church is male.  If the youth pastor is you, good.  I’m writing this for you.

I firmly believe that youth groups should be safe and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of race, economic status, popularity, religious background, body type, and gender.  Whatever you believe about the genetic differences between males and females, girls and women have different interactions and experiences with culture, including Christian culture, than guys do.

The Church, as representatives of God, needs to treat girls in a way that reflects God’s love and acceptance of them.  If they can find safety, acceptance, empowerment, and inclusion in God, they should be able to see that reflected in the culture of our youth groups.

What are some practical ways to do that?

Ask girls how they feel about the youth group.  What’s the best thing?  What is one thing that they wish was different?  Do they feel like they’re treated equally to the boys in the group?  They may have noticed things that you would never consider.  Consider how you can use their experiences to make the youth group better.

Make it clear that the girls are to be treated respectfully and explain what that includes.  Give the boys in your youth group examples of wrong ways to treat the girls and right ways.  Then, model it yourself.

Don’t tolerate sexist jokes at youth group.  They are still hurtful and can still make girls feel less safe.  This can be a difficult thing to stop though, so I have been known to give three chances.  The first two jokes of the night receive warnings and a reminder of the consequences.  I try to use consequences that are related to it: “You think that women belong in the kitchen?  Not here.  You get to clean up after snacks and wash the dirty dishes.”

Make sure that the girls are given the same chances to help out as the boys.  Let girls do the sound or the powerpoint for worship.  Ask them to help with putting chairs and tables away.  At the same time, ask the guys to help in children’s ministry, snacks, and decorating.  Use variety to help your youth discover their gifts and the ways that they like to serve.

Use inclusive language.  If you’re reading from a version of the bible that doesn’t use inclusive language, remind girls that this verse includes them, and explain why.  When all that young ladies are hearing are “men,” “mankind” “brothers,” and “he,” it is easy to wonder if this message is actually speaking directly to them or about them.  Hearing “men and women,” “humanity,” “brothers and sisters,” and “he or she” can make a huge difference.

Include stories about girls and women.  Use illustrations about women and scripture passages about women often, and show the girls in your youth group examples of diverse female role models that they can look up to

Have multiple female leaders, and have a diverse group of them.  Have them speak and lead to the whole group if your church allows it, and at least with small groups of girls.  Empower your female leaders to mentor girls and to be positive role models.

Make sure that girls’ voices are heard and acknowledged during discussions.  Give them a chance to speak.  Ask for opinions.  Validate their feelings.  Teach them that they have a right to be heard.

Don’t turn things girls like and do into jokes.  This is an easy way to show that you don’t respect them and that you don’t care what they care about.  It makes girls feel belittled, shamed, and ridiculed.

Use games that you know the girls will be willing to participate in.  If you know that the girls often wear skirts to youth group, give them fair warning if you’ll be doing active games.  If the girls don’t like gross games or sports, do your best to have alternatives.  It is also worth noting that if a girl wants to sit out of the more active games, encourage her to join, but don’t force her.  She may have a good reason, such as feeling like her uterus is made out of freshly sharpened knives.  She doesn’t really feel like moving let alone explaining why to a male youth leader.

How have you intentionally reached out to the girls in your youth group?  What has made a difference for you?

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