Week 1: Time to Go Home
Note to the Teacher
As we launch into Advent this week, we think about the first things that signal our passing into Christmas time. Whether it is the appearance of wrapping paper in stores, or the crisp feeling in the air, there are things that signal the Christmas season is here. We will use that same idea to reflect on the first things that signal to students that a place could be a good home for teens. That will lead us to think about how we might use those same signals to communicate that our youth ministry is a safe home for teens in our community.
1. Ice Breaker: “First Signs of Christmas” (10 minutes)
This ice breaker focuses when students noticed the first signs of Christmas in their world. You will need to gather the items below beforehand and place them in a bag or box so that students cannot see all the items. One by one, take an item out of the box and show it to the students. Ask students when they first saw that item. It might be in a store, an online ad, or in their home. Give the item to the student who saw it first. If you are meeting online, you can do everything but the last element virtually.
Items in the box:
- Christmas candle
- Christmas ornament
- Piece of a Christmas tree
- Christmas sweater
- Egg nog
- Chocolate Santa
- Santa hat
- Polar Express movie
- Christmas music CD or printed out cover art
Of course, you may get creative and add other Christmas-themed items to the box. If you choose some that are culturally or contextually relevant for your group, even better!
Transition to the next activity by saying something like, “If we’d unwrapped each of these gifts at home, we might have a pile of paper and a mess surrounding us. Maybe it would even be messy enough that we could lose our gifts underneath the layers. When you pay attention, you may see a mess you need to clean up, and that can feel tiring because you just want to focus on the good things, the gifts. But among the mess, you also see life, dying and rising life, enough to give you hope in a dreary season.”
2. Read Scripture: Luke 21:25-36 (5 minutes)
As we read this passage, listen for the signs of Jesus’ return.
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
- We are talking about coming home for Christmas as our theme this Advent. When you “go home” for Christmas, where is that? What makes that place feel like home? Does that place deserve the label of “home?” Do you travel to a relative’s house, or is there a special place in your house that feels like the best “home” part?
- Jesus is talking in this scripture about “coming home” in the sense of Jesus returning to Earth. What are some of the signs that he is coming home? What do we know about Jesus that would help us understand that he could call both Earth and Heaven his home?
- The idea of Jesus coming back to Earth brings with it the belief that he will set things “right” or better aligned with the values of God’s kingdom. What are some of the things that seem out of line, or off, in the world right now?
- How would you imagine that Jesus would set those right?
- We don’t have to wait to work on those things. Prayer for change and working for change can go hand in hand. Check out John 9:5-7 or Matthew 9:19-23 for examples of faith and action creating change. How might we work together to start to “set things right” in the world?
- Big question: What if we are part of Jesus returning to Earth? What if God wants to use us to set things right? Would that change the reading of this passage in Luke? Why or why not?
- *For the leader: The concept of Jesus returning to Earth is a big one in Christianity, with lots of different ideas and expectations. For example, the Pharisees believed that if all Jews would follow the law perfectly for one day, they would be part of bringing the Messiah to Earth. There are fundamentalist Christians today who believe that if Jews in Israel will convert to Christianity, it would usher in the second coming of Jesus. Perhaps a question like, “How might we help others experience a glimpse of God’s Kingdom right now, instead of waiting for Jesus to show up and just ‘fix everything?’” might get at this same concept without some of the distractions that can show up if you have a group that could get sidetracked by a discussion on how, when, and whether Jesus is literally coming back.
4. Activity and Discussion: The First Signs of a Youth Group Home (20 minutes)
We want our youth ministry to be a place that feels comfortable—like home—to the teens in our church and community. Each week, we will be thinking about how we can make this a healthy place to call your spiritual home. Today, we will talk about the first signs of home, those things that help you know that you are “home.” We want to discover the things that communicate to the rest of the world that church can be a home where people might want to live and grow.
Depending on the size of the group, this activity can be done as one big group or broken up into smaller groups that report back to each other. Be careful in this discussion to not run ahead. Make sure to stay in the step you are working on so that you can have the most productive conclusion. Also, make sure you are concentrating on the FIRST signals; not the things that people experience after being in a place for a while. What are the first things that “tip them off” that this is a good place for teens?
Using a white board or flip chart for notes will help. If online, use a Jamboard, or similar app.
Step 1: Learning from Other Places
Begin by making a list of other places in the community that students enjoy being in/at. Where are the “homes” for teens in the community? (You will want to save this list for week 5.)
Once you have that list, ask these questions:
What are the first physical things that communicate that this place might be a good “home” for a teen? What are the first physical signals of that “home-ness” outside the location? What are the first physical signs of that inside the location?
What are the first relational signals that say this place might be a good “home” for a teen in the world? What do people say? How do people act? What do people say about the place?
Step 2: Evaluating Our Place
Before we learn more deeply from the other spaces we just talked about, let’s look with a critical eye at our space. What are the first things our place communicates to you? To young people who may be visiting for the first time?
What do the first physical pieces of our church’s “people experience” (building signs, advertisements, furniture, etc.) say about this place as a “home” for teens? Make sure to think about the signals on the exterior as well as the interior of the church.
What are the first relational signals? What do they say about this place as a home? How do people act toward teens, especially unfamiliar teens, when they enter? What do people say in the youth area? What do people say about our church and/or youth group when they aren’t at church?
Take all that feedback and make a list of things you are doing well and places you as a church could improve. (For the leader, consider keeping this list to review, and potentially share with a church council.) If youth have a hard time getting started, review the “Settings for Faith Formation Checklist” or consider going through that checklist as a group.
Step 3: Putting the Two Together
What can we learn from first signals in the non-church “homes” that can help us improve our church “home?”
How can we give better first signals to teens that this is a place that can be a good home for them? What can we do outside of our church to communicate this that is not merely inviting teens to show up at our church?
How can we make the first experience in our church and youth area look and feel more like the places teens call home in other parts of our community?
Total time: 50 minutes
- Christmas supplies (save these to use for week three too)
- White board or flip chart and markers