Fears of a Youth Group Leader #3

Trying to keep myself sane by blogging, amidst all the things that are happening these holidays. Today’s post deals with the concept of “follow up”. To put things into context, “follow up” is the action of contacting someone in regards to a previous event that has occurred. In a general Christian context, this is when we contact non-Christians who have recently attended church (for the first time) or another evangelistic event, and we want to see if they were interested in coming again, or having someone keep in contact with them. The goal of “follow up” varies from context to context.

In a youth group setting, I suppose its where the youth group leaders contact a new kid who came to see what they thought about youth group, and whether there is anything we can help in for the future; for example, giving them a lift to church, getting them a Bible, or answering any questions that they have. While it’s clear that the goals are pretty much identical to those of the general Christian context, the main factor which changes the whole situation is age.

Youth are youth, they are not adults, and sometimes nowhere near adulthood. As such, getting into contact with them isn’t as straightforward as it is when compared to way it’s done in the work environment. To contact someone, one must first obtain their contact details. But how exactly are we to do that in today’s society, where we all try to be cautious with our personal information? Particularly for youth, they surely aren’t the ones who would freely throw away their personal information in public (except on Facebook).

The main issue isn’t really with obtaining a youth’s contact information; it’s quite easy to stalk people down on Facebook these days and most people are comfortable with giving an e-mail address, and also maybe a mobile number. With that information in hand, it now seems that “follow up” can easily be conducted with someone new who came to youth group. With all these avenues of communication – Facebook, e-mail, MSN, phone, text – shouldn’t it just come down to a preference thing?

Unfortunately, it’s an undeniable fact that the most effective form of communication is in person, closely followed by a phone call, where at least you can hear each other’s voices. So out of the short list from above, “follow up” is best conducted through the phone/mobile. And clearly that’s the observation we make of people who follow up on us; they give us a call to ask about work, or about an assignment, etc.

But considering the age that youth are at, my fear is that it’s a bit awkward to talk to them on the phone. There are many conflicting issues in my head that stop me from following up on a youth via phone:

1. Don’t really know them (since it would be their first time coming).
2. If mobile number was not obtained in a direct way, a phone call would constitute as “stalking”. And it makes sense for the reason that it’s not easy to ask a new person for their number when you’ve only just met them.
3. There are other forms of communication that kids these days prefer, with Facebook being the clear number one.
4. General fear of saying something weird that will freak them out.
5. At face value, it is an adult/young adult calling up a kid, creating slight annotations of paedophilia.

Given the youth group context, there is a dire need to speak directly to youth when following them up. Leaders want to show that they care about the youth (in a godly way) by conversing and connecting with them in a caring way; showing them that extra bit of care above just normally contacting them through msn. Secondly, you really want to make a good impression on the newcomer, although of course this should’ve been achieved when they first came to church; but you still want to encourage them to come a second time and to make sure that you’re prepared better for them next time round, eg: not playing physical games if they aren’t the athletic type.

While there is this desire to show them God’s love in this particular way, I can see how people get the wrong message from godly love because of today’s society and the amount of deceit and paranoia that exists. Much harm can be done with people’s personal information and trust is much harder to develop. There is my dilemma, but I’m sure it’s frequent in other churches and other settings as well. I suppose my current attitude towards this is to respect the other person’s privacy, even if this means not being able to contact them in the most direct way possible. It does no good starting off on the wrong foot with someone, even if the there is a small chance for a “high payoff” – that is, being able to bond with that person. It’s probably safer to keep that distance from the new person and take what you can get through other methods of communication.

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