What to call the participants of your youth ministry doesn’t seem like it should be a high priority. Realistically though, how you label people in the plural will have a dramatic impact on that group identity and sense of value, and it will instinctively give subversive impressions to those you’re speaking to.
I asked 185 American youth workers what they call their teenagers, with the option to add other names. Here’s the results:
Adolescents – 0
Children – 0
Young Church – 1
Kids – 2
Young Men and Women – 3
Young People – 5
Other – 9
Youth – 14
Students – 145
Interestingly, ‘students’ is not a name we would use in the UK, as it usually refers more specifically to someone studying, usually at university.
Some of the comments that came with the results defended calling young people ‘students’ is it sets a tone that they are there to learn about God, while still being more respectful sounding than ‘youth’ which often carries negative cultural contentions. I totally get this.
There are 2 issues through that I’d like to gently raise: First, it sets the teenagers in ministry apart from other ages in ministry for a reason that is not actually specific to them. We are all – or at least all should be – students of God! This could set the precedent that the adults know it all.
The second issue is perhaps a more Biblical one. The Bible uses the words ‘Youth’ (בְּחֻרִים), ‘young man’ (בחור) and ‘the young’/‘youths’ (ילדות) – as distinct from children or adults. They are a Biblical people group designated by their age, so should have this noted in the same ways ‘men’s’ or ‘senior’ ministry would be.
Whatever you decide to call your young people, make sure you are respectful, loving, compassionate, specific and clear. It’s worth some thought, eh?