Is Young Life Really For EVERY Kid?

March 14, 2012

This guest post was written by Julie Wisch in Chicagoland, IL. Julie has been a volunteer leader for five years, yet is commonly mistaken for a Junior in high school. While summer interning at Timber Wolf Lake she set a bike intern record by falling off her bike fourteen times in front of campers. You can read more from Julie on her blog.

“Your group is pretty self selecting, isn’t it?”

I was a bit confused. No. Of course not. Young Life is for all kids. We don’t just “select” the types of kids we want to come. We work really hard to make sure that anyone would feel welcome walking in the door. That makes us the opposite of self selecting, right?

What did this teacher’s aide know anyways? My defenses were up. I was ready for a debate. She must have seen that.

“When I say self selecting, I mean you only have kids there who choose to be involved, right? The kids are selecting themselves.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in that question.

The traditional suburban Young Life model really plays to this. When we spend our time leading the kids who show up on their own, the kids who are brought by their friends, the kids who have older siblings involved in Young Life, we are doing good work. Please don’t read this and think I am negating the value of this model of ministry. When we are “introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them to grow in their faith,” we are true to our mission.

But how wide of a net are we casting?

When I choose to go to a basketball game, what happens? I talk to my kids that I know well, I talk to their friends, I maybe interact with a few parents, but that’s about it. At my furthest stretch, I will strike up a conversation with a kid I do not know. However, this kid has also “self-selected.” This kid is choosing to be involved in his or her school by supporting the team. This kid must have the resources to get to the game, whether that be their own car, an involved parent, or a friend with a car. This kid is choosing to engage.

Where are the kids who are disengaged? Where are the kids who don’t “select” to join any group? To be a part of a community?

I’ve been lucky enough to be allowed access to the school where I lead YL. I would say my biggest “success” in this arena has come from being a part of my high school’s tutoring program. I show up at the school and am put with a group of kids who are required to be there. They’re in the room because they’re failing their classes. They’re in the room because they are disrespectful students. They’re in the room because they’re not engaged. PERFECT. These are the kids I am talking about.

Another idea….the bus stops after school. My area director and I noticed something striking about the bus stops near the school I led at in college. They were almost 100% segregated. Maybe this isn’t true everywhere, but it was a fascinating testimony to the way our city was divided. The white kids were taking the buses that headed west. The bus to the south east side of town was entirely black. The Hispanic kids were all headed northeast. Are all of your kids riding the same bus home?

This isn’t a post about race. I actually hate to bring it up, because I’m afraid that’s all you’ll hear. It’s not. I mention race because that’s been a piece of the picture at both of the schools I’ve led at. And it’s an easy piece to see. At a school that was nearly 50% African American, our club was 90% white.

Is it also true that maybe 10% of the kids at the high school I lead at are athletes, and closer to 60% of the kids at our club are athletes? Is it also true that we know the majority of the orchestra and the dance team, but have never met anyone in the anime club? About 72% of high school students graduate in four years. I only know one kid well that falls into that other 28%. The “disengaged.” The kids who are really struggling.

So this is the question. Who are you reaching? Does your club’s makeup match the makeup of your school?

Maybe your club composition isn’t even the right metric. I don’t think club has to be a part of a successful ministry. It’s a great tool, but maybe it’s not the right one, depending on your kids. Not everyone dreams of screaming Brown Eyed Girl and drinking soda through a dirty sock on Wednesday nights. Let’s think about this more in terms of life-on-life discipleship than club attendance….

Are you setting yourself up to only meet a certain type of kid? How can you widen your net?

Any thoughts for Julie? Push back? Amens!? If so, please leave a comment below.

Join the Conversation

Sign up for our monthly email newsletter that keeps you updated with the most helpful and relevant content.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.