Death of the Chaperone

I see it all the time. It doesn’t matter what city I’m in—the problem is ubiquitous. It’s evident at youth ministry venues everywhere: I call it the perimeter.

You’ve probably seen it, too: a room full of teenagers, young people in clumps all throughout the room . . . and the adult leaders gathered around the perimeter.

I’m not throwing stones. Honestly. I have to confess to being part of the perimeter. I remember working as a volunteer at my church’s middle school ministry a couple of summers ago. On one particular Wednesday swim night, the students all jumped into the pool immediately, splashing and playing. I, on the other hand, started a conversation with another adult leader. After sitting and chatting for about ten minutes, I looked around and noticed that all the teenagers were in the pool, and all the leaders were talking with each other at the edge.

I literally threw my hands up. “Crap! I’m in the perimeter!” (Yeah… I’m known to dabble in mild foul language.)

Why does this happen?

Two Simple Reasons the Perimeter Exists:

  1. The adults think they’re just chaperones.

We don’t need chaperones—we need shepherds. We need caring adults who want to connect with students both inside and outside of youth ministry venues. Whenever I notice the perimeter at a youth ministry venue, it’s because no one ever told the leaders their purpose for being there. When the youth ministry leader neglects to set the vision for adult leaders, the leaders naturally slip into chaperone mode. This is what parents do at their kids’ schools, so they figure it must be the same thing here.

  1. They’re not equipped to leave the perimeter.

Even if they know their purpose is to connect with students, they might not know how. Think about this: What are you supposed to say to a middle school kid in a swimming pool? Nice bathing suit? Most adult leaders need training and equipping on basic ways to connect with young people.

How do you go about obliterating the perimeter and equipping adult leaders to connect with teenagers?

First, let your adult leadership team know why they’re there.

I do this from the first moment I’m recruiting my leaders. I don’t recruit chaperones for youth group—I recruit caring adults who are willing to spend five hours a week hanging out with young people. Youth group only makes up a couple hours of that total. This provides time for caring adults to show up at sports events, chess tournaments, or piano recitals. This provides opportunities to take a student to McDonalds, order a mother lode of fries, and talk about life (and how to cope with indigestion after eating too many fries).

Second, equip your adult leadership team to make these kinds of connections.

Give them books such as Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. This book will not only help them to identify the six types of kids they might encounter in their ministries, but it will also give them practical tips on how to dialogue with young people, listen, and look for open doors to share biblical truth. Show your adult leaders free training videos such as this one. Or bring them to training workshops such as the ones at NYWC. (I’ll be teaching my Connect workshop in both San Diego and Louisville this year).

Don’t be like me and get caught sitting in the perimeter.

And especially don’t be the ministry leader who caused the perimeter in the first place, neglecting to equip his or her adult leaders to connect with students.

Are you equipping your team to connect?

What’s your first step this week?

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Jonathan McKee is President of TheSourceForYouthMinistry.com and author of more than a dozen books, including Connect, More Than Just the Talk, and The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket. Jonathan speaks to leaders and parents worldwide. You can read more from Jonathan in his blog, JonathanMcKeeWrites.com.

Join Jonathan and thousands of other youth workers at the National Youth Workers Convention as we look to the future of youth ministry and wrestle with how to get beyond our discomfort of addressing these kinds of questions and frustrations from students. Ready to register? CLICK HERE

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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