Our youth ministry has a set of ground rules that we reiterate every time we gather. They’re basic things that establish how we relate to and interact with one another. Our ground rules include:

  1. When one person talks, everyone else listens. To help make sure only one person talks at a time, raise your hand if you have something you’d like to say.

  2. You know who you are so lean in and out accordingly. If you typically talk a lot, lean out to make space for others to share. If you don’t typically talk, lean in because we want to hear from you. Your voice matters.

  3. Everyone’s opinion is welcome. It’s OK to disagree with one another but do so with respect and kindness.

  4. This is a safe place to ask questions and say “I don’t know”.

Now, I now it’s not always cool to be a youth worker with rules. And repeating the same rules week after week is definitely not fun, but it is vital.

Reiterating ground rules every time you gather stresses their importance. It reminds people they’re welcome and shows people they matter to your community.

On weeks when we forget to begin with our ground rules, our space feels a little less safe. Teens tend to talk over one another. They sometimes snicker at one another’s opinions – not because they’re malicious but simply because they’re kids. They make up answers or stay silent rather than admitting what they don’t know. A few teens tend to dominate the discussion and we lose the voices from the margins.

In contrast, when we begin with our ground rules, it reminds teens what we value: Them. It establishes that no one person is better than another and that everyone’s voice matters. It gives those with minority opinions an invitation to share them. In short, it lays the foundation for a good, robust discussion – one in which faith is formed as we study and wrestle with God’s word together.

To me, creating that kind of environment is more important than being a fun, cool youth worker with no rules.

Sure, repeating ground rules week after week can be a little tedious. But it can also establish a community of caring individuals, and in so doing, ground rules can become incredibly life-giving.