How can we create healthy connected groups of people?

Built on Trust

In my blog post last week, I realized that the one thing that makes youth love their confirmation classes is when they feel connected to the people in it. And so I’ve been asking myself how we can create confirmation classes that have that sense of connection?

I’ve reflected on the groups I’ve known that I thought worked well, asking myself what it was about them. It not about fun, although those groups are often fun. It’s not about making sure everyone shares their opinions, experiences, or feelings, although people in those groups do share. It’s not even about everyone getting along all the time, although these groups are generally kind to one another.

I’m wondering if it comes down to two things: trust and investment.

Trust: Before people can share genuinely and without fear, there needs to be trust in the group. Kellor wrote a blog post a year ago about building trust at youth group through check-in questions. I think one of the things this captures is that trust is built one tiny piece at a time, over time.

We don’t get to go into a group and say, “this is a safe place to share!” It needs to be established every time as a safe place to share. And we demonstrate that by being a safe place to share, starting with the small things.

It’s like the parable of the faithful servants: if we can be faithful in small things, like respecting their opinions on Marvel vs. DC, then we can be entrusted with much larger things.

You might also want to check out my blog post on sharing vs. oversharing, which explores the contexts in which we share; and making your youth group a humiliation-free zone, about evaluating games for their trust-worthiness.

Investment: I believe that another huge reason for youth – or anyone – to feel connected to a group is if they have some ownership in the group: an investment stake. This also helps with building trust, of course. But the investment has to be real, and to have a real payoff.

In Confirm not Conform, one of the first things we do is ask the group to establish Rules of the Road, so behavioral expectations come from everyone, not from the top down. This sets the tone for the whole program: this is your group. What do you want it to be? How are you going to be involved and invested?

In CnC, we also ask youth to choose a project for the whole congregation and present it to the congregational leadership. And we tell them that their choice of whether or not to be confirmed matters. We want them to say yes only if they mean it. And we honor the choice, be it yes or no, at the iConfirm service, where all the participants are asked to teach the congregation and share what they’ve been thinking.

And I think there are lots of ways to do get youth investment: inviting youth to be discussion leaders, to prepare or teach lessons, to evaluate programs, to be mentors to others, to take an active role in the life of the church.

But the church needs to be open to this, because true investment means the people involved – of whatever age – need to have a genuine say in what goes on. We can’t just give lip service to their participation. If we do, then when they cotton on to the fact that we don’t mean it, we instantly lose the trust we’ve been working to build. And then we’re back to square one. And the trust will be much harder to regain.