Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Lauren Surprenant.
Lauren was born & raised in the Boston area, moved to the suburbs with her husband, Tom, and children Taryn & Matt. She is presently bi-vocational/bi-ministry, serving as youth minister at a small country church and serving as ministry director for Youth for Christ, Macomb IL.
Gosh! It’s break – let’s go somewhere again today and do something fun! Meet at the church and we’ll decide there – sports, festivals, theater, restaurants… so many choices…
… and then I moved to the rural Midwest – where the closest mall is 45 minutes away and the closest “good mall” is over an hour. A place where I WANT to take my students to GO somewhere, go DO something fun together… that we haven’t already done, that they haven’t done their whole lives because there is “nothing else to do”. Rural ministry is a huge paradigm shift from big-city ministry.
This city girl had some rude awakening when she moved to the Midwest. I thought I understood suburban living serving in the Metrowest suburb of Hudson, MA [you followers of Jon Acuff: yes, same town, same church]. We were an hour outside of Boston… that’s “rural”.
I was prepared move to Macomb, IL – a town roughly the same size as Hudson… if we exclude “the country”… so I thought. When kids in MA talked about doing chores, they typically meant indoors – farm chores was a concept totally foreign to me. When kids in MA said they had nothing to do, it meant they just couldn’t decide what to do because there are so many choices. In rural areas, they really do not have many options. I quickly I needed to change how I did ministry.
We all know social activities are important to developing relationships for kids to give you the authority to speak truth into their lives. When social opportunities are limited, we are then forced to add another task to our to-do list: create “something to do”.
As I now do this on a regular basis, I have learned a few things:
- FOOD: This is paramount. Kids will be hungry! Consider this: Hungry teens are cranky teens, which will affect your program. When kids leave cranky and hungry, that is the last thing they remember – and they won’t have much good to say if they are traveling further away and that’s all they can think about.
- MAKE IT DIFFERENT: For many rural kids, their decisions to participate will be decided on whether it is worth the cost of gas to drive there.
- MAKE IT THE SAME: Sometimes kids like knowing what they are in for – some things can be consistent. Ex: at each Fifth Quarter, we hang out, shoot hoops/play pool, have pizza and s’mores at the campfire.
- MAKE IT INVITING: Create an environment that kids want to invite their friends to come hang out at the social events. Kids want their friends to meet you – without fear of being embarrassed or worse…bible thumped.
- MAKE IT RELATIONAL: Find time to sit and chat with people. It’s great that we have fun and play games with kids, but then the event’s outcome is solely social. Get games started and then make time to sit and talk with those who are not playing, or who may be willing to sit out a round to talk to you… you’d be surprised how many are willing to do so.