Great question from a Canadian Youth Worker:

I’m a relatively new youth pastor (4 months), working part time. Our ministry is growing, largely due to a bus we send to a nearby community. This brings kids who wouldn’t normally be able to come to church. While we’ve added more students, we haven’t added adult leaders. We have 1 leader for every 10 students and we’re having discipline issues.

Do you have any advice in working with a diverse group (ethnically, age-wise, and spiritually)?
Any ideas: We don’t want to turn any youth away, but we can’t handle many more without losing control and individual attention.

DanM: Thanks for taking a moment to email the Simply Youth Ministry podcast. Feel free to follow up in the the comments below. Here are a few thoughts and questions:

Discipline is a tricky thing because it’s both an art and science. You can’t let a few students ruin a program for everyone. Discipline starts by communicating your expectations.

I think the best way to do this is start “general” and if needed, go “specific.” Share your expectations with everyone from the stage, and then go one on one with individual if needed.

In my opinion, you don’t want to be “heavy handed.” However, you do want everyone to know you’re serious. You don’t want to be a cop or a librarian; on the other hand, you’re not a DJ from a rave dance party. This is the “art” part: you need to walk the balance in a way that’s consistent with who you are.

Personally: I joke a lot, and can usually enforce discipline this way. I don’t ridicule students, although if I know them really well I may walk this line.

I think you want to be flexible, fair, and firm. Flexible: Your rules aren’t perfect, and every situation isn’t the same. Fair: everyone needs to hear the same expectations/rules. Firm: if you don’t enforce your consequences, you’ll never maintain discipline. These values can conflict with one another (especially the first two), but good leadership has tension and requires discernment.

You may need to turn some kids away for the good of the ministry. This is a tough call, but you may need to make it: unconditional love doesn’t you have to let a teenager quench the Spirit.

Diversity in age and spirituality is difficult to tackle. There are no easy answers. I think the best approach is to find the middle ground, and provide extra steps for the more mature. For example, “for those of you looking for more, check out Mark chapter 4 this week…”

You can also engage the more “mature” by getting them involved with the program. When they are serving in some way (maybe even teach some), they will stay with a program that’s “not at their level.”

With the ethnic diversity, I’d need to know what issues you are facing before I could have an opinion. Have you nailed down the problem in this?

Finally, do you have a clear picture for what you want to see happen at your program? Your goals and vision for the program will influence how you respond. If your program is outreach focused, you’re not going to get everyone’s attention, and maybe that’s ok. If your program is focused on discipleship, then attention is really important.

Got any advice for Dan? Sound off in the comments.