My new youth group just wouldn’t gel. I took over as an interim youth pastor at a small church in town.  The kids had come to the church for a long time, but I was the new guy, and it showed.  For several Wednesdays, the youth group night was OK, but there was a clear disconnect between “me” and “them.”

I needed some sort of “glue” to bond us together.

I tried being extra funny, engaging in get-to-know you type activities, and even doing a significant number of one-on-ones.

It wasn’t working.

While this lack of cohesiveness may not have been visible to an outsider, it was there, and it was tangible.

So, I took them on a trip. 

We went to another town 90 minutes away and played at an intense laser tag arena.  We laughed as we shot each other and made up goofy names.  We double-teamed and strategized and double-crossed each other.  Then we went out for ice-cream.

The next Wednesday, the entire group dynamic felt different.  For an entire day, we had simply played and built relationship.  We now had a shared experience. We now had ways to finish the sentence, “Do you remember when…” 

Nothing engages new relationships better than shared experiences.

Last weekend I joined a men’s retreat at a new church I’ve been attending. There were 36 guys on the trip and only 3 of us were new.  For 18 years the majority of these guys had been on these annual men’s’ retreats, and their depth of inside jokes and reminiscing was almost staggering.

Equally staggering was their depth of relationship.

It is the same way in youth ministry! When a group of kids can get together and can tell stories about something they have done together, it speaks volumes of the relationships and ties that they have made.

Relationships become stronger.  Trust builds.  Depth increases.

Then, when the tough times come, the roots are already there.  The kids know where to turn. They know who has their backs, and they know where it is safe. They remember who was present in their lives, and that is where they go for help.

You cannot over-estimate the power of shared experiences.

It is like super glue for a ministry group.

This is why we play games in youth ministry!  Doing something where there can be laughter and intentional “moment-making” creates relationships between the youth and the leaders.  “Do you remember when we played live-action angry birds and Johnny flew off the launcher and broke the table? That was epic!”

This is why we work to have engaging lessons!  When you talk about a Bible story – its great! Yet, when you find a way for your group to experience the story, it can become life changing.

This is why we take kids on service projects, trips, events, and concerts! I have had more depth created on one-hour van rides on the way to concerts than on some of my youth group nights.

Students are longing for authentic relationship.

You don’t have to take kids on a laser tag trip.  You don’t have to have flashy lights or fireworks on your stage.  You don’t need to fly kids to Israel to boat on the sea of Galilee.  It isn’t about big resources or opportunities.  There is no step-by-step guide on how to make a shared experience just right.

Just get your kids together and do something. More than a talk, more than a prayer, more than a bible study.  Do something memorable.

I have seen a thousand times over that a shared experience moves forward relationship faster than any other method.

What kind of things do you do to create shared experiences?  I’d love to know in your comments below!