Do What It Takes to Keep Your Group Safe
The first time I heard a minister mention the concept of “bouncers,” it made me bristle.
In order to keep a church’s young adult worship gathering free of what he described as “stalkers,” several men were stationed around the church to make sure no one gave any women any unwanted attention.
If a man even remotely looked like he was making a woman uncomfortable with his presence, the man was taken aside and given a friendly warning to discontinue his contact with the lady. If a second warning was needed, the man was politely asked to leave the gathering and not return. “If you don’t make sure your church is a safe place for women,” the minister said. “You won’t have a ministry very long.”
Today, this concept applies to both the men and women who are a part of your young adult ministry. If you allow anyone to perpetuate a “meat market” mentality where dating—or worse, “stalking”—becomes a primary feature of your ministry to young adults, you will not succeed in reaching unchurched people for Christ.
I just returned from a minister’s gathering that featured several roundtable discussions concerning issues of great concern to them. How to appropriately discourage this kind of behavior came up right away in our discussions.
On the surface, it does sound a little heartless to show the door to people who are too aggressive in their romantic intentions. After all, a church should be open to all people, no matter how socially clumsy or inept, they may be, right?
If that’s your mentality, you’re dead wrong.
The foundation of your ministry is to bring people to Christ and to grow them as His followers. Anything that distracts from that goal is a stumbling block you need to take painstaking steps to remove.
Obviously, any time you minister to young, single people, romantic relationships will develop, and navigating through and around this world will be an ongoing part of building, growing, and maintaining your ministry. At the same time, this cannot become the central focus of what’s happening in your church.
So, what can you do to keep your young adult ministry “safe”? Here are some suggestions:
- Set the ground rules regularly. Make sure everyone knows that if you’ve come in the door looking for a date or a mate, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’ve come looking for purpose for your life or the answers to your spiritual questions or friendships, you’ve come to the right place. Set expectations for what your church’s ministry is about.
- Establish some gender-based small groups where leaders can talk about appropriate relational and dating behavior between men and women. If you have some people who are really struggling in knowing how to relate appropriately with members of the opposite sex, make it mandatory for them to be involved in a small group of this type if they want to continue being a part of your church’s young adult ministry.
- Develop strong leaders who further your leadership by setting expectations for group behavior. Ministry groups do conform to the expectations of their leaders, but they also conform to the expectations of the people who are the backbone of your ministry. If your small group leaders, worship leaders, and other leaders advocate the right kind of interaction between men and women, it will become the group norm.
- Make sure the men in your ministry understand their primary responsibility is to be protectors of the women in your ministry, not their suitors. If they treat the women in your group as their sisters in Christ, your group will have the right relational temperature.
Use “bouncers” and become one yourself. If someone’s behavior becomes distracting or dangerous to the group, you have no choice but to move them out. Depending on just how they are behaving, this may not mean completely disenfranchising them from your church. It may just mean keeping them out of your young adult ministry for a season until they develop the right idea about how to treat members of the opposite sex.
You can ask them to attend another Bible study group at your church for a time or involve them in another ministry. (Just make sure you have the understanding and blessing of the leader where you are sending them.)
If they cannot understand why their behavior is a problem and why they need to address it, you may have to ask them to leave your church entirely. If you do so with love, they might even thank you for it later. A minister friend of mine told a story at our meeting of a young man he had to ask to leave the church for this reason. Years later, the man invited him to attend his upcoming wedding and thanked him for re-directing him in this way. If he had not understood the severity of his actions, he might not have ever learned to behave any differently.
Keep your ministry safe. You can’t afford to do it any other way.
About the Author
Jim Johnston has worked in a variety of roles, ranging from marketing to publishing to Internet development. Prior to coming to LifeWay, he worked as a reporter and editor for the Montgomery Advertiser and also as an adult-in-missions editor at the Brotherhood Commission in Memphis. Jim and his wife Tammy have been married for 23 years and have two sons, Spenser, 17, and Ethan, 10.