Reading this account of this teenager giving up on youth group got me to remembering when I wanted to give up on my youth group. I know that I’m in the minority in thinking this, but while all groups have cliques, there are good cliques and there are bad cliques. Good cliques are a close group of friends, people who naturally gel together. Closer friendships/relationships will just happen among folks; this is how community is formed. Bad cliques are an exclusionary group, folks who run around for all intents and purposes saying “you” can’t be our friend. My youth was a place of exclusive cliques. In fact, at one point we even had new youth leaders in who decided to actually structure the youth group like a student body (even changing the name to “student body”). which meant a youth group president, vice-president and two other “offices”. In other words, a popularity contest.

(One, by the way, which I wasn’t allowed to enter into. We’ll ignore the fact that I was the only black in the youth group. I was having my spinal surgery the week of the election and they thought that my “one week in the hospital” would keep me from assuming the “mantle of leadership.” Um, okay.)

Anyway, of course the more popular kids one and they did what popular, vacuous kids do: lead right into the toilet. Eventually, there was a regime change in the youth group. First, the leaders earned what they wrought – popular kids also mean well-connected, pastors kids – and learned just how hard it could be to maintain any sense of order. Second there was a regime change: a group of us got sick of the way the youth group was run. A few new leaders (people who would never have considered themselves leaders, but were the right people at the right time) and a few teen leaders (okay, yes, I was starting to realize that I was a “leader-type” despite my continuing protestations, but let me tell you, if it wasn’t for the return of a friend of mine who was a true leader in every way for me to serve beside, it wouldn’t have happened) and suddenly you have a refocused youth group.

Still, I have to ask, what is the point of a youth group? To organize ski trips and the occasional mission trip?

When people are choosing a place to call their church home, one of the things they look for is a place to put their kids. Someplace stable, structured, and safe … read: away from them. I’m wondering if we need to re-think how we do this. After all, there has to be some reason why so many people graduate high school and then leave the faith entirely.

Maybe there is a value to worshiping together, not always segregating out by interest, age, or stage of life. Those relationships will happen on their own. Maybe we need to better exploit the power of intergenerational community and learn how to teach teens how to think critically.

I don’t know.

I kept going to my youth group because my pastor liked me and saw some potential in me. So much so that he picked me up at my house each week so that I wouldn’t have any excuses to not go. Were those years formative? I certainly learned a lot. Then promptly left the faith during college.

But I did come back.