Youth group, that time in our lives when were dealing with the awkwardness of adolescence and the reality of faith. Also, lots of van rides, short-term mission trips and numerous pledges in which 13-year-olds vowed their premarital purity in writing.
Sure, looking back, some of it may have been a little strange. But as anyone who grew up in youth group will tell you, it was also pretty fun. Here’s a look at the nine things we still miss about our youth group days.
Once you hit your late 20s, the prospect of having to force yourself to stay up all night for no good reason sounds pretty awful. But, for some reason, nothing was more fun as a 15-year-old than getting “locked-in” a church for 12 consecutive hours of eating pizza [see below], watching PG-rated movies and playing games that involved at least one person nearly drowning in shaving cream, jello or some other substance.
2. All the Pizza
Pizza is the lifeblood of any healthy youth group. (In terms of attendance, anyway. Looking back, eating that amount of pizza was actually very much not healthy.) There was not a meeting, evangelistic outreach or church-sponsored concert that went by without dozens, perhaps hundreds, of giant pizzas being inhaled by ravenous teenagers.
3. Human Videos
If you grew up in youth group, you didn’t just learn how to share your faith — you learned how to share your faith through the ancient and revered art of mime. You can question the effectiveness of a group of all-black-clad teenagers performing a choreographed dance-fight illustrating the battle of good and evil, but you can’t question the good intentions of the participants. Anyone willing to perform a public mock-crucifixion accompanied by nothing more than a boom-box and a Michael W. Smith tape is clearly not ashamed of their beliefs.
4. Acoustic Guitar Jam Sessions
At most youth groups, approximately 40% of the congregation dabbled in the acoustic guitar. (This percentage shoots up to 87% in Christian college dorms.) Because there were only a few coveted spots in the youth praise band lineup, the non-elite guitar-playing population was relegated to informal jam sessions. You could all take turns passionately rocking out to your rendition of “In the Secret” pretty easily. All you had to do was learn four very basic chords, and the entire catalogue of known praise and worship songs was at your disposal.
5. Trust Falls
If you ever went on a mission trip or some sort of youth-group-sponsored outreach, for some reason, falling backwards off of a chair into the arms of relatively weak fellow 14-year-olds was a ministry requirement. This still makes no sense. And is probably an insurance liability. But, we’ll admit, it was a little fun.
6. Youth Retreats
By putting the word “retreat” in the name of the outing, youth leaders could convince themselves that there was some underlying spiritual benefit to going away for two nights to goof around on a ropes course. And they were generally right. But any former youth group kid will tell you that retreats also included a lot of sneaking out of your barely guarded cabin, pulling “pranks” that were more like vandalism and rendezvousing with the girl/guy you had been secretly dating (sorry. “Courting.”) These retreats were the source of about as much spiritual repentance as they were spiritual benefit.
7. Christian Punk Rock
Teenage politics were just too confusing. Thankfully, most youth groupers had access to albums from bands like Ghoti Hook, Relient K, Superchick, Plankeye, Mxpx, Dogwood and a ton of others to help us make sense of it all. The bands did (and some still do) make killer punk rock that fueled many post-youth group skateboard sessions. And if punk wasn’t your thing, no worries, there was always ska. Or Jesus Freak.
8. Awkward Icebreakers
No matter how frequently a youth group Bible study met, and no matter how well you knew everyone in the youth group, an awkward “icebreaker” game was ALWAYS the mandatory opening. Sometimes, these simply involved some sort of name-based word play; other times, they would include complicated rules, anxiety-inducing personal revelations or tasks that made Fear Factor look like bingo night at the retirement home. It has since been revealed that a degree in youth ministry required at least one year dedicated to studying elaborate icebreakers.
9. Games That You Were Too Old to Be Playing
Because most youth pastors have some minimal requirement when it comes to events that they are responsible for every month, hastily organized “Fun Days” were not uncommon. Unlike outings to amusement parks or overnight trips (which required filing cabinets full of printed schedules, permission slips and emergency contact info), these “Fun Days” mostly involved almost no foresight. They were really just a bunch of activities that could keep kids occupied for a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon with minimal supervision. Even though the participants in these games were in their late teens, nothing we did would be out of place on an elementary school playground. Each included at least one of the following items: a Frisbee, water balloons, orange cones and super soakers.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.