This summer, I joined a group of volunteers from our church as leaders in a Christian teen camp. I had a wonderful time and I’ll definitely be going again next year, but I did observe an interesting phenomenon. There were a lot of unwritten rules and habits, things the leaders who’d been going before all knew. But I didn’t and it made me feel frustrated and left out at times.

One example was the fact that even though there was a ‘bed time’ during the whole camp, the last night the students were allowed to stay up all night. Had I know this sooner, I would have made sure to get some extra sleep the nights before, but I only found out the day before when I was already pretty tired. When I got home, I was so exhausted I was dizzy. Sure, a good night’s sleep took care of most of that, but I did wish I had known earlier.

left out 

The curse of knowledge

It was a perfect example of the curse of knowledge the Heath brothers wrote about in their book Made to Stick. When you’ve been doing something for a while, when you know something like the back of your hand, you tend to forget what it’s like to not know. And that often results in not sharing information that new leaders and students need to fit in, feel really welcome, to be part of the group.

In itself, this isn’t such a big deal, but it can become one when it starts to affect other people:

Everybody knows that even though you officially start at 7.30, the program doesn’t really begin till 8…except you never told the new student who shows up at 7.15 and feels like an idiot.

Everybody knows that you’re not allowed to bring energy drinks to youth ministry activities…but you never bothered to write that down and now a leader is embarrassed for breaking a rule he didn’t know about.

Everybody knows that small group leaders are supposed to show up at youth services…only you never mentioned this to the new leaders and now they were the only ones who weren’t there.

Everybody knows that the students aren’t allowed to leave the room during the sermon…but you didn’t explain the exception for that one kid who has ADD and simply can’t sit still that long. Now he’s being scolded for walking out and both new leaders and students are confused.

Everybody knows you’re supposed to bring a Bible to camp…it’s so logical that you didn’t even bother to write it down. But two teens didn’t know and ended up being the only ones without a Bible, making them feel stupid and left out.

If you want your new leaders and new students to feel part of the group, explaining the unwritten rules and habits matter. You could write them down in a booklet or explain them in a starting session at the beginning of the season. It’s never a bad idea to stress the youth group rules, even for those who have been part of the youth ministry longer and should be aware of them. But taking the time to share the knowledge necessary to fit in, that’s time well spent.

What do you tend to forget that other people don’t know? Which unwritten rules, habits, exceptions to rules, traditions, etc do you have in your youth ministry that others should be aware of?