How Quakers Can Regain their Youth

by Anthony Manousos

    "Why is Pacific Yearly Meeting losing its youth?" As we learned during an intense and often deeply moving two-hour discussion during the 1995 session of Pacific Yearly Meeting, young Friends meant many things by this question. They were asking why so many young people leave the Society of Friends during their college years, and why most do not join in the first place. (According to a recently convinced Junior Friend I spoke with, only two of the 60 or so teens who attended PYM are actually members of a meeting.) Our young people were also asking why we adult Friends have become stodgy and set in our ways, why we are content to sit through interminable meetings and quibble over petty procedural matters, and why we often seem joyless and harried.

   This year the Spirit has made it very clear to California Friends that we need to pay more attention to the concerns of young people. During SCQM's winter retreat, 23 youth showed up to affirm their desire for more youth-oriented activities, including service projects (see
Friends Bulletin, April, 1993). In response to this call for change, SCQM and AFSC have started a youth program to which teens and parents have responded enthusiastically. But clearly much more than weekend programs is required if we are to regain our youth and make them an integral part of Quaker life. We also need to initiate youth activities at the local meeting level.

    Since many Friends have questions about how this can be accomplished, I have tried to respond based upon my own experience working with youth. I hope that these practical suggestions will inspire not only discussion, but also action on the part of  concerned Friends. I also hope that we will thereby gain (or re-gain) the sense of joy and vitality that comes when children, youth, and adults all feel empowered and affirmed in the life of our meetings.

Starting a Quaker youth group in our meeting sounds like a great idea, but we just don't have enough youth!

   It is true that you need a "critical mass" of young people to start a youth group, but the number is much smaller than you may think. You can easily start a group with only three or four teens. If you meet regularly, and plan activities that are stimulating and fun, this core group will bring their friends, and you will soon find that you have more teens than you can handle. (5 - 10 teens is an ideal number to work with.)

   In some cases, where only one or two teens are present, you might decide to join forces with a nearby meeting. In any event, you'd do well to encourage "intervisitation" among neighboring youth groups. The more, the friendlier!

What does it take to start a youth group?

In a word, commitment! It takes at least two committed adults willing to devote their time on a weekly basis, and it takes committed parents willing to offer financial and moral support when the occasion arises. It is also crucial to have the support of the meeting as a whole.

Why do you need two adults?

Given the stresses and difficulties of working with teens, it is advisable to have two adults working together, preferably a male and a female. This should be a requirement if the youth group goes on outings or "overnights." (Also, remember to have permission slips,  insurance, and an agreed-upon code of appropriate Quakerly behavior.)

   How do we begin?

   Adults who feel led to start a youth program should get together and brainstorm.  It is helpful to invite someone who has worked with youth, such as a teacher, counselor, or youth worker. It is also a good idea  to read over some of the material prepared by and available from the Religious Education Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Highly recommended are the following curriculum guides, each of which can be purchased for around $7.00:

Just Do It. How to Plan and Staff a Youth Gathering. Ralph "Cookie" Caldwell and Margaret "Peg" Bernstein. 
Growing in the Light: Towards a Better Understanding of Quakerism Today. Nine Lessons for Adults and Senior Highs. Dorothy Reichardt and Barbara Henderson.
Quakers Answer the Call: Lessons Drawn from Quaker Lives. Ideas for All Ages. Edited by Lynne Brick and Barbara Henderson.
Working with Middle Schoolers: Ideas and Resources for Young Friends Groups and First-Day Teachers. Prepared by Lynne Brick and Barbara Henderson.
Growing in the Light: Towards a Better Understanding of Quakerism Today. Nine Lessons for Grades 6-8. Dorothy Reichardt and Barbara Henderson.

   The next step is to call a "threshing session" for parents and teens. It is important to contact parents and teens personally and invite them to attend. Flyers and notices are fine, but remember