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Types of youth and group work

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There are many forms of youth work. Youth clubs, church groups, sports clubs, music clubs – all provide young people with lots of opportunities to spend their free time in a sensible way. Each young person will look for their own place where they feel comfortable, understood and acknowledged. Each club, each institution which is involved with young people has an intention, a vision and one or the other goals with different levels of importance.

Whoever doesn’t have a goal, contents and a responsible commitment, will surely lose his group members sooner or later. His loss of interest in youth work will soon follow or be the final result. A youth football trainer would not be a football trainer if he didn’t want to teach his team to play football and that hope his team does well in tournaments.

There are many different styles and different possibilities to achieve a group target. That means that the ways which are described here do not have to be followed or be applicable. Every person may look for the best way for himself. Everyone should, however, reflect upon his own intention within youth work and make a few thoughts about the why, how and where to. Once these factors are clear, the goals are also clear and youth work is likely to be seen something which is binding. These are the best preparations for successful youth work.

The classic youth work within churches is surely still the youth groups for approx. 7-12 year olds, followed by the teenager groups of 13 - 17 year olds. In the following paragraphs, we would like to present the two types in more detail and deal with the characteristics of the two groups.

  • Brigades for 8-12 year old girls and boys – usually single sex groups

  • Teenager work for 13-16 year old youths – in single sex groups (boy’s group or girl’s circle) or in co-educative groups (teeny circles, club work with confirmees after confirmation, youth circles)

Group work with 8- 12 year olds
The classic brigades

The following text is taken from the official committee of evangelical youth work.

An appetite for boy’s/girl’s brigades

Practical tips: Recognise the backgrounds – give blessings

youth work

15 children sometimes come to the brigade, sometimes only 5. We started off with 20 and now there are only 8 who are regularly there, apart from if we have a party/event. How can I motivate my group to come regularly?

The secret of the boy’s brigade fathers, who also had these problems, were continuations of the stories. The excitement of finding out how the story continued was a strong motive to come again. No-one wanted to miss the next instalment.

youth work

A varied program

A varied program is important. If a group leader usually plays football or always does crafts, he will only reach kids with these specific interests. Girls and boys need multifaceted program elements. The resilience to stick at something is not very strong. A varied program can therefore provide important space to enjoy different experiences. In doing this, children can test out different talents.

Committed group structure

A committed group structure is required to feel comfortable. Rituals are important. That means elements which are always the same and come up again and again: this provides security. Fixed times, punctuality, a cosy room, committed members of staff who keep their word and a well structured evening all provide children with security, which children today need.

An attendance register

A register which is pinned up for all to see is motivation to come to the group. The register of attendance should be filled in during the group time. Some leaders even make a group tree, where stickers are awarded for attendance can be stuck onto the tree as fruit. Others might make a train with lots of wagons. Each member makes a wagon and receives a sticker for the wagon for each attendance.

You could even draw a car race circuit, for each class attended; the member has driven 50 km – who will drive the furthest? Such competitions also have their faults, but they can generally be used to encourage regular attendance. A small prize, such as a good book, might also encourage attendance.

Enlarged photos of collective events

Lots of group rooms are decorated with enlarged photos of group events. That provides atmosphere – the kids feel at home. Important is that lots of photos of all members of the group are displayed. A little question such as: “Where is Michaela today?” shows that a child is missed. “Who knows what’s wrong? Is she ill? Who can pick her up next time? Who can visit her?” In using such questions, the group will realise that every individual is important.

A personal greeting

A personal greeting at the beginning with a handshake and a few friendly words is appreciated. In doing this, we show our happiness to see the members and they feel rated. Children need this. How often are they ignored, pushed out of the way and made to feel unimportant? In the brigade, they learn a valuable lesson: I am important! My group leader likes me. He/she is pleased to see me. I like him/her too. Children today, have a large lack in the areas of acceptance, devotion, values, praise and love. These factors will play a large role for children who regularly come to the group.

House visits and invitations

It does, of course, help if you knock on doors, send out invitations and promote your brigade and it bring it into the public eye. Tips with imaginative ideas and plans for promoting youth groups appear in the boy’s brigade leader newspaper from 3/95, page 47-50.

However a good group will grow by itself and be its own advertisement. Practical steps to achieve this are: A visit when a member is ill, a personal greeting, and an enquiry if someone does not come anymore.

Recognise backgrounds – pass on blessings

We live in a time where commitment, faithfulness and regularity are not demanded. Material values and the principle of pleasure decide our behaviour. Due to the fact that children learn from role models, our own lifestyle is not without meaning. It is therefore worth training your own sense of obligation and commitment. That can sometimes take a long time, but you will reap the rewards. Maybe a simple prayer can help: Jesus, please help me change, so that I become reliable and virtuous. Apart from this – the sayings of the boy’s brigade leader will definitely help.

Why do children actually come to the group? What is special about youth work?

As a colleague of God, you are called upon, to pass on his blessings. That is a valuable gift. You yourself and your youth work becomes a large barrel into which the Lord pours his healing powers of life. Blessings are most definitely accepted – even by chaotic children (Romans 15, 7). Conspicuous behaviour often has its roots in the secret internal question: do you really like me – or do you only like me when I am good and adjusted? Do you like me even when I am bad?

Difficult and attention-seeking behaviour usually comes from children who have been so badly hurt that the staff must let them feel love and acceptance. That is appreciation of children as a valuable gift from God (Psalm 127, 3) with respect and attention to the wonder that God made us in his image and carefully watches over us (Matthew 18, 10).

Today, we particularly need a new encouraging language. In school and in life in general, all mistakes are marked in red. It is concentrated on the negative and on criticism. However criticism closes the hearts of children – even if it appears to be constructive. Jesus does not give us such a strict commandment for the sake of it. Do not judge others (Lukas 7, 36ff)! Confidence and praise build children up. They become good seeds who provide ripe fruit. The open up their hearts for others, so that real relationships become possible and so that trust can grow. This includes confessing mistakes and blame, requesting forgiveness and accepting forgiveness (Matthew 18!).

I can still clearly remember this story from my youth group. It is etched into memory even though it is almost 40 years ago. At the time, I was a lively group member with lots of silly ideas in my head. The leader of my group was almost 2 metres tall and had a lot of patience with me. However, his hand did reach out once – I was slapped in the face. I pushed it under carpet, as we would say today, and I bravely stopped myself from crying and swallowed my pain, along with my anger and thoughts of vengeance! I am never going back again to the group. Such a nasty, unfair brute...!

Frieder (that was his name) came to me at the end of the hour. He hocked down to me, held out his large hand to me and said: Rainer, please forgive me. I was in the wrong to reach my hand out. I am very sorry, forgive me please.” That impressed me. Then I said: “O.K. – I forgive you!

In this way, a real relationship grew. That was a deciding experience for me. Due to this experience, I stayed in the group. I learnt at this time how important this request and the acceptance of forgiveness is (Matthew 7, 12.14.15!). In a truthful relationship, trust can grow.

If children no longer come to the group, sometimes negative experiences, for example, games where they feel foolish or damage to their pride through staff or other group members can be the hidden reason. Weaker or smaller children are sometimes bullied or hit on the way home. In this case, the members of staff are particularly required to protect and build up the confidence of the weaker ones and to the show stronger ones where the limits are. Similar rules are also applicable to children who come from other countries and are called foreigners. Protecting the weaker children is an important task. A good group does not fall from the heavens. The handy work of the leader is very important. Building up a good group atmosphere needs time, planning, patience and concrete steps leading to clear goals. God provides us with everything that we need for the task. However we must use his gift and apply it. Where his blessings flow and through acceptance, value, confidence and praise we help provide a healing community in which children feel secure. The brigade becomes an oasis, a place of replenishment, of enjoyment of life and a source of power for all of the challenges which life throws at us. If Jesus Christ is at the centre, his blessing works abundantly and preciously (Markus 10, 16).

If the Holy Ghost is there as consoler, helper and teacher, the group time will be an enjoyable experience, which the members of staff, girls and boys look forward to and which no-one will want to spoil. The first step toward a regular group is the regular prayer for the children, which god has placed under our responsibility. The following prayer will help.

Dear Father in heaven, thank you for my brigade, you have created them wonderfully. I praise and commend you for this. Jesus, you have redeemed them, you gave your life so that they can live. You love these children and want to bless them with you healing power of life. Through you, the Holy Ghost, we receive the love of the heavenly Father into our hearts. I open myself up for you, so that you can make me into a vessel which can spread the abundant blessing throughout our group.

Rainer Rudolph (Boy’s brigade work book 1998)

Author and source: Rainer Rudolf, Evangelical youth work in Württemberg / Boy’s brigade work book 1998 Provided in the German language with kind authorisation for use by Praxis-Jugendarbeit (Youth work-Practice). Translated into English by Praxis-Jugendarbeit.

Group work with 13- 16 year olds

Orientation help for the group leader of Evangelical youth work in Württemberg

The youth work took place in single sex groups for a long time. This has changed in the last few years. There are more and more co-educative groups for work with 13-16 year olds. There are different reasons for this. In some places, the number of youths or the number of members of staff means that there isn’t an option (e.g. in rural communities). Some see a trend in co-educative work and go along with it. Others believe in the pedagogical rudiment of co-education, which means it is a conscious decision to educate girls and boys together. The discussions on advantages and disadvantages of this type of work were not always free from presumptions, suspicions and reproaches. It became an alternative, as if only one form of education is correct. Leaders of single sex and co-educative groups became unsure. The following considerations should assist discussion on reflection and conceptions in this type of work.

Young people between 13 and 16 are on a journey. They have been thrown out of childhood and are looking for a way into adult life. A 16 year old has the following thoughts:

  • I am no longer what I was, namely a child.
  • I do not want to be what, in my opinion, I should be.
  • The others do not allow me to be what I want to be.

This statement characterises young people between 13 and puberty (sexual development) faced with all of the highs and difficulties which they can hardly master. The physical changes are experienced differently from person to person: They are often not in a position to accept the changes. They want freedom and independence, even if they cannot take responsibility for it. The relationships to other people suffer under their own changeable moods and dispositions. Lots of them feel over-whelmed by the decisions they have to make. Previous norms and the search for the own identity becomes a pressuring and complex problem. This shows itself in:

  • The way they relate to adults and the regulations laid out for them in politics, society, school and church.

  • With a view toward the next/final school exams and the worry about finding a trainee placement / university place.

  • In the long-term financial dependence on their parents and the desire to becomes independent and free.

  • In the reducing ability to spend their free time sensibly.

  • In the question about the meaning of life and if it is worth it.

  • In the almost complete pre-occupation with themselves.

  • In the inability to stick to society’s politics and social welfare tasks.

  • In religious and Christian areas: The belief as a child is no longer there and new experiences are required.

  • In friendships and partnerships: Friendships are quickly formed however tend to be short-lived.

  • In dealing with their sexuality: Young people believe that sexual maturity and sexual ability are the same thing and can hardly see beyond their own desires and decisions.

The boy’s group

The boys feel comfortable in a group of boys longer than a group of girls of the same age. They orientate themselves according to a “man’s world” and the norms in this world. The structure of the group and distribution of roles are more strongly based on power and popularity contests.

The girl’s group

Girls try to leave a single sex group earlier than boys. They look for possibilities and groups where they can meet boys. Sympathy and abhorrence play a larger role in groups of girls. The identification with the “woman’ world” is not experienced in the same way as the boys. Boys identify themselves more easily with men than girls with women. Both boys and girls experience more freedom in single sex groups because they can talk about subjects more openly. Girls tend not to have the need to “push themselves to the top” in front of each other. They can discuss their feelings and ask questions more easily under the “umbrella” of the single sex group without finding it embarrassing and without losing face.

The co-education group

In the co-educative group, the young people are much more strongly focused on communication. They are fascinated by encounters with members of the opposite sex and want to get to know them. In these encounters they get to know about the differences, but also the similarities, between the genders. Boys and girls can learn together how they should behave with each other. That can often be a painful, but also a freeing experience.

Crises are not excluded. These can however have a strong effect on the group process. The young people in a co-educative group get so involved in their relationships with each other that the points on the program, which they were interested in, suddenly become uninteresting: The relationships between the members become more important than the theme or subject. This can be disappointing for the members of the group who do not have too much contact to the opposite sex and had been looking forward to the program points. The young people in a co-educative group learn how to deal with challenges in their personal development through the partnerships with each other. Tensions can occur due the different maturity levels between boys and girls. While boys are occupied with themselves and clear up a lot of things alone or within a group of friends, girls push for understanding and therefore usually relate to boys who are 1-3 years older. They want to be in a group with these boys and arrange the program. It is therefore not rare, that the boys in a co-educative group of the same age feel that they are not taken seriously, feel that too many demands are made of them and then stay away. It is however possible that the boys develop a “brotherly” relationship to each other and avoid tension.

The responsible parties in a community or in a club must check what type of group the youths need. They will however, have to engage the members of staff which come into question, as not all members of staff are suitable for co-education groups. There are hardly any subjects which only crop up in co-educative groups or only in single sex groups. They do however come about differently and differently discussed and answered with counsel and with pedagogical relevance for the specific group. Co-educative work is not better and not worse than single sex work. It can however, lead to more disturbances and is possibly shorter lived.

Methodical considerations

Young people are often in no position to comprehensively judge their own situation. You should become a program leader and assistant. You should work together with the youths and consider their wishes. The members of staff will suggest program points which are though of by the youths, or are not suggested due to a certain shyness. A group which meets each week generally has an advantage: this encourages communication and allows a continuous program in which pedagogical and spiritual progress is made.


There is more tension within a co-educative group due to peer pressure. Members of staff must know this and live with it. For this reason, they will need a particular wisdom in backing the community and stability within the working group. The leading of co-educative groups is only possible if the members of staff themselves are a few years older and have found themselves – “I cannot offer others, what I am not myself”. In the named areas of work, the leader should be a role model in practise and in staying power. Only in this way can they offer the youths orientation and resistance. They will be closely observed by the members of the group in their role as a man or woman. In single sex groups, the team co-operation of the leader is seen as an example of how man or women live and work with each other. In co-educative groups, the group sees the leader as a role model. Their co-operation will be copied, questioned or refused. In order for the girls and boys to be able to identify themselves, there should be a male and female group leader in a co-educative group wherever possible. Workers who are still going through puberty themselves make the group insecure. They cannot encourage the youths and the group starts to “dance around themselves”. This is often the first step towards the splitting of the group. Members of staff who are stable and know their own tasks will be able to convince the girls and boys to learn to understand them. They can win trust and accompany the group.

Author and source: Rainer Rudolf, Evangelical youth work in Württemberg / Orientation assistance for group leaders. Provided in the German language with kind authorisation for use by Praxis-Jugendarbeit (Youth work-Practice). Translated into English by Praxis-Jugendarbeit.

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