A Guidebook to Relational Youth Ministry

Toxic Culture

Post Modernism, rapid technological developments, our struggling economy, the disintegration of the family, and a fractured political system have taken their toll on the health of our society. Just like any infection, the weakest and most vulnerable parts of the body show the effects first. In every community across America the young are suffering the horrible effects of our societal illness. Many of our most vulnerable have been fragmented off and abandoned.

We live in a drastically different world than the one our parents and we adults grew up in. There are a lot more pressures and distractions on today’s youth. Today’s kids live in a society dominated with:

  • Individualism: What’s in it for me?
  • Hedonism: If it feels good, do it!
  • Minimalism: I’m going to do just enough to get by.
  • Relativism: There are no “truths”.
  • Materialism: Whoever dies with the most toys wins

Isolated and Alone: Ask any kid, penetrate their veil of fear and you will discover that they feel isolated and lonely. They feel like they are on their own against the world. They don’t know who to trust. They feel like society has left them on their own to figure out how to grow into an adult. Kids are born into isolation. They no longer are welcomed into the community. They are not cared for, embraced, and nurtured as valued members of our society simply due to their status as a young member of our community. They are not the recipients of unconditional love. They have to prove their worth in order to be accepted and they learn that this only happens through their performance and their image. If you can “perform” (scholastically, athletically, and socially) and you have a good “image” (good looks, good clothes, money), then you are cool and you will be accepted. If not, you will be fragmented and isolated as an outcast.

Abandoned: A recent survey concluded that today’s parents spend 40% less time with their kids than parents did 30 years ago. The pressures of our society have consumed the parents time and our kids have been abandoned. Latchkey kids (a child who returns from school to an empty home because his or her parent or parents are away at work, or a child who is often left at home with little or no parental supervision) are now the rule not the exception. Studies have clearly shown that kids left home alone for more than three hours a day reported higher levels of behavioral problems, higher rates of depression and lower levels of self-esteem. Many parents have decided that child rearing is too messy to deal with, so they have outsourced the parenting to teachers and coaches. Parents love their kids so much, that they would rather pay a personal trainer, mentor, teacher or coach to deal with their kids, than have to spend 30 minutes talking with them face to face.

Life’s Pace: Parents and adults are so busy just trying to survive in our modern “rat race” that they don’t see what a terrible toll that it’s taking on the lives of our kids. True, our hard economic times have put a lot of pressure on parents to provide for their families, but at what cost? Many parents operating at this “break neck” pace are either too fearful, too exhausted, or too dependent on it to be able to step back and see the real effect that it is having on their kids.

Denial: Many adults and parents, when confronted with the reality that we have isolated and abandoned our kids, are simply not willing to commit to doing what it takes to correct the problem. It’s too messy, it’s too hard, and it requires too much effort on their part. They choose to look the other way. They say, “Let someone else deal with it, it’s not my job”.

What is the solution? The solution is for us adults to communicate clearly to our kids that we love them unconditionally, that we will be there and stand by them no matter what happens, and if they want, we can help them achieve a transformed existence.



  1. WE CAN GROW VIRTUE THROUGH: Education, deliberate virtuous acts, perseverance in struggles, and by following examples set by others.
  2. VIRTUE OF THE WEEK: By focusing our attention on one “Virtue of the Week”, we can convey the message of Virtue through simple words, stories, and activities using examples from everyday life. These activities challenge the perception of teenagers and force them to choose between self-centeredness and other-centeredness.
  3. VIRTUOUS LEADERSHIP: In order for Virtue First to work, someone needs to take the lead in each youth group. Typically this is a “Youth Minister”. A real leader personifies the certitude of the creed. He\She kindles the vision of a breathtaking future so as to justify the sacrifices of a transitory present.
  4. ASSISTANT YOUTH MINISTERS: Assistant youth ministers need to be recruited and retained because they are men and women of virtue first and foremost. They need to completely buy into ministering ”Virtue First”. They need to be disciples of the program. They need to know it, value it, live it, and then teach it. Some of them will have to “Fake it until they make it”.
  5. BODY VS. SPIRIT CORE CONCEPT: Quality time should be spent familiarizing youth group members with the “Body vs. Spirit” concept. Members should learn that their “Body” is made up of several physical components that can be made strong by eating properly, getting enough rest, exercising, etc. Likewise, their “Spirit” is just as, if not more important than their physical body. Their spirit is made up of their intellect, conscience, and will. Their spirits can be strengthened just like their bodies by practicing virtue.
  6. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF VIRTUE: The Encyclopedia of Virtue is a collection of stories, articles, quotations, and virtue based wisdoms that have been assembled over many years. Each youth minister should be provided with a copy of “The Encyclopedia of Virtue” to use as a reference guide and for creating “Virtue Talks” with teenagers. “
  7. UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: Youth Ministers need to help young people come to terms with verbalizing their love for each other. Use the words every time you meet. Youth ministers will use the “Program Mantra” (See next section) as often as possible with members. Youth ministers must make sure that their love for the members is openly verbalized and clearly unconditional. We don’t care whether you are skinny or fat, what kind of clothes you wear, how much money your daddy makes, or what color your skin color is, we love you. Our love is not performance based, it’s unconditional. For many of the members this is a view of love that they are not familiar with. Young people love it.
  8. FORMED IN THE FIRE OF AFFLICTION: Youth ministers should emphasize with members that life has a way of transforming our trials into stepping stones for future blessings. This happens all the time in life. No pain – No gain, No trial – No treasure, No gall – No glory, No cross – No crown. If you get knocked down, get up. Hard work and self sacrifice are the road to success. These concepts will serve young people well in the future as husbands/wives, fathers/mothers, and providers for their families.
  9. COME TO SERVE AND YOU WILL NEVER BE DISAPPOINTED: Youth ministers should make a big deal out of community service and group members serving one another. There is no greater love than to lay down ones life for another. This not only applies to community service, but also to selfless assistance with members, helping another with a math assignment, or helping Mom around the house.



  1. PROGRAM “MANTRA”: Every time the youth group comes together for any activity, the youth ministers will recite and members will respond with the program “mantra”. Youth ministers will ask “What’s our job?”, and the group members will respond back in unison “To love us.” The youth ministers will then ask the group members “What’s your job?” and the group members will respond back “To love each other.”
  2. VIRTUE TALKS: Before the start of each meeting or event, during break periods, and at other appropriate times, Youth Ministers should give short 10 minute lectures on the “Virtue” of the week. Virtue Talks are a key element in “Ministering Virtue”. Virtue Talks at the beginning of meetings sends the teenagers the right message that virtue is first in our youth group. Youth Ministers can increase the Virtue Talks relevancy by connecting the virtue of the week with something that is going on in school, current world topics, in the church, or an upcoming holiday.
  3. YOUTH MINISTERS “ONE ON ONES”: Youth Ministers should break the group into “Packs” (small groups of 6-8 teenagers). Give each Pack a name or number. Assign one Youth Minister to each Pack. During breaks or other down times, each Youth Minister selects one teenager in their “Pack” to have a short 5 minute “One on One” talk with. ”One on One Talks” give Youth Ministers the opportunity to provide personal virtue guidance for each teenager, and provide an opportunity for the teenager to reach out to a Youth Minister with any personal struggles. Some groups do this in the form of “Walk-Outs” or “Walk-Ins” to meetings. All Youth Ministers will participate.
  4. DAILY TEXTS FROM YOUTH MINISTER TO TEENAGERS AND ASSISTANT YOUTH MINISTERS: The lead Youth Minister of the program should send each teenager a quick inspirational (virtue of the week based) text message every day. This is a great use of technology and a way to stay in touch with youth group members. Teenagers get dozens of text messages that are garbage, how about a “good” one? Assistant Youth Ministers need to be inspired just as much as teenagers.
  5. INSPIRATIONAL EMAILS: Your church community needs to be inspired and connected. The lead Youth Minister should create and send assistant youth ministers, parents, and teenagers inspirational virtue based emails on a regular basis. Encourage all people connected with the program to sign up for this service.
  6. INSPIRATIONAL POSTS ON FACEBOOK: The lead Youth Minister should post an inspirational face book comment every day. This is a great use of technology and a way to stay in touch with youth group members both in and out of class seasons as well as keeping the lead Youth Minister in the mainstream of teenager youth group member communications.
  7. VIRTUE CAMP: Take your youth group on an overnight excursion or just get away for a day. Use this as an opportunity for breaking down group “clicks”, and for bonding teenagers and youth ministers. Make “Virtue” a big part of the theme for the camp out. Break into packs and create Virtue Skits and go on Virtue Treasure Hunts. If you can’t go camping, sleep out overnight somewhere closer. A change of venue bonds youth group members and lets you get to know a side of your teenagers that you may never see in class.
  8. BREAK BREAD WITH YOUR YOUTH GROUP OFTEN: Group meals, eating, and dining together with your youth group is a very important socialization and bonding tool for the group. Families eat together, so should your youth group. Remember, “If you feed them…they will come”. If you want attendance…feed them. Never underestimate the power of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  9. VIRTUE GEAR: Promote “Virtue” with your members, parents, and community by equipping your teenagers with T-Shirts, wrist bands, lanyards, decals, patches, stickers, etc. featuring “Virtue” based themes. It’s a great way to let people know that you are part of a virtuous community.
  10. VIRTUE AWARD STICKERS: Reward virtuous behavior with the awarding of candy. Battlefield Commissions are awarded as a means of immediate gratification for virtuous acts. If a group member makes a virtuous act in class, church , or community, give them a piece of candy right then and there. Battlefield commissions are a great motivator.
  11. WEEKLY ADULT AWARDS: Have your youth group invite one adult community member to your weekly class. Have the group pick the adult parishioner based on their personification of a specific Virtue. At the class have designated teenagers thank the adult for everything they do for your church and give the adult a small token of the youth groups appreciation.
  12. STRENGTH CARDS: The Virtue First Foundation provides free business card sized strength cards to be used by Youth Ministers and teenagers as reminders of various virtues. Strength Cards are also helpful during “One on One” Talks and as hand outs to group members.
  13. FATHER SON/DAUGHTER SPIRITUAL BOOK NIGHT: One of the most inspirational and emotional events a father or mother and his/her teenage son or daughter will have during your class. Have the Dad or Mom (or a surrogate stand in) present each teenager with their own personal spiritual book (bible, etc) at a special ceremony at the beginning of the class season. This is a great opportunity for Dad or Mom to tell his son/daughter that he is proud of them and he/she loves them.
  14. CREED: Your youth group should create a group creed and recite it often. The Virtue First Foundation has a good template for a creed that they can provide you with.
  15. FUN DRILLS: The youth group should finish every meeting with a “Fun Drill”. Youth Ministers should use Virtue Firsts “Fun Drill Manual” as a resource or create their own Fun Drills. Every group members should leave every meeting with a smile on their face and feeling good about themselves. Winners should be rewarded with small prizes (candy). Never end a meeting on a “downer”.
  16. PLAYER/PARENT EXPECTATION/ROLE EVALUATION FORMS: Parent expectations need to be evaluated and educated. Youth group member roles need to be defined and clarified. One great tool for doing both is to have the members and the member’s parents complete a Virtue First “Expectation/Role Evaluation Form”. This process really helps get everyone on the same page and can eliminate future misunderstandings. Compare the parent’s expectations with the teenager’s expectations for the class and communicate discrepancies before they cause friction.
  17. PARENT MEETING: At the very beginning of each class season, conduct a Parent Meeting and use it as a time to educate parents about the “Virtue First” program. Solicit their support of the program at home.



  1. We will value the journey more than the destination.
  2. We will value the spiritual more than the physical.
  3. We will develop “Character and “Work Ethic”.
  4. We will put the “Group” ahead of self.
  5. We will strive for Spiritual Excellence. This will be a priority and will not be undermined.
  6. We will develop “Mental Toughness”.
  7. We will all put forth a “Great Effort”.
  8. We will communicate with one another openly and honestly. We will not talk behind each others back.
  9. We will structure our meetings so as to build both our “spirits” as well as our “knowledge” of our faith.
  10. We will serve others. Youth Ministers will serve teenagers, teenagers will serve each other. If we come to serve, we will never be disappointed.
  11. We will always put youth group member’s virtue first.
  12. We will learn to have fun.
  13. We will use a cooperative ministering style that uses compassion, family values, fatherly and brotherly love.
  14. We will instill discipline in our youth group members. It will be fair, firm, and consistent.
  15. We will always strive to be the best youth group we can be.
  16. We will identify a role for every member and we will work to make that role worthy and satisfying.
  17. We will have empathy for the families of our members.
  18. We will encourage all members.
  19. We will not tolerate foul language.
  20. We will not tolerate “mediocrity” in our youth program.
  21. We will set our goals high. We will talk about them frequently.
  22. We will work “one step at a time” to achieve our goals.
  23. We will all (members and Youth Ministers) focus on the “next day” when we make a mistake.
  24. We will be humble. People don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.
  25. We will make our spiritual development a priority in our lives. Example: Our spiritual development, Family, School, Sport. Girlfriends and cars are not a priority.
  26. We will recruit every eligible teenager to join our youth group. Our program will be so valuable that teenagers will want to be in our youth group even if they don’t go to our church.
  27. We will “Dream” of great things.
  28. We will not use alcohol, drugs, or tobacco.
  29. We will do everything possible to ensure that every member participates and doesn’t get lost in the noise of loud members.
  30. We will challenge the strong and save the weak from discouragement.
  31. We will not tolerate “negativism” from Youth Ministers or members.
  32. We will work to embellish the belief that both victory and defeat are imposters. That we live somewhere in between. When we have success…be humble. When things don’t go our way….have hope for tomorrow.
  33. We will correct a little and love a lot. Youth Ministers will never yell at members in anger.
  34. We will praise in public and punish in private. Youth Ministers will never verbally assault members.
  35. Attendance is important in our program. You can’t learn anything or contribute if you are not here.



Youth Group Member Expectations:

Members should expect:

  1. Encouragement from Youth Ministers.
  2. Individualized learning time.
  3. Excellent role modeling by youth ministers, grooming, dress, behavior, and ethics.
  4. Guidance with personal problems or direction to appropriate community based guidance resources.
  5. An organized structured learning environment.
  6. Food.
  7. Safe Refuge. (A place they can go and be safe).
  8. Discipline and structure.
  9. To learn and have fun.
  10. To learn to work with others.
  11. To learn to overcome weakness in ones self.
  12. To actively participate in spiritually related social events.
  13. To support a superior.
  14. To master a body of knowledge (spiritual, religious, etc)
  15. To receive help from youth ministers and other group members.
  16. To overcome adversity.
  17. To accomplish something difficult.
  18. To learn to console one another.
  19. Some freedom and autonomy in their life.
  20. To impress others and not let it go to their head.
  21. To accept blame.
  22. To explore their emotions through the hard work of charity.



  1. Make a commitment to building assets for youth in your faith community—and for all the children and young people around you.
  2. Surround yourself with people who support you and your work. Empower yourself by serving others. Set boundaries on your time and high expectations for yourself. When you spend time with young people, do it because you really want to, not because you feel you have to or should. Focus on what excites you about youth work and dream big about the future.
  3. Identify how your programs and activities build young men and women of virtue. List all the formal and informal opportunities your faith community offers for young people and evaluate each in light of the growing virtues.
  4. Nurture a virtuous climate in your youth group. Focus on creating an atmosphere that is warm (where young people, volunteers, and youth leaders are friendly and welcoming), caring, thinking (where young people are challenged to think and grow), and valuing (where young people are valued and respected).
  5. Train all volunteers and other youth ministers in the Virtue First approach. Discuss the unique implications that growing virtue has for your faith community.
  6. Ensure that retreats, camps, and trips are virtue growing experiences by balancing fun with learning how to build relationships using virtue as the bridge. Expose young people to new people, cultures, experiences, and opportunities to learn about themselves and their abilities. Take time after these experiences to reflect on what happened—the positives and the negatives—to help young people process what they learned.
  7. Form partnerships with other people who are interested in building virtue. Some of these people may be members of your faith community; some may be part of a different faith tradition; others may be in a youth-service organization or school. The important thing is to find other caring adults who want to bring out the best in young people. By working together, you’ll develop creative ideas, be able to expand your outreach, and make a bigger difference in the lives of kids.
  8. Involve youth in virtue building efforts. Include them on planning teams, ask for and use their ideas about programs and activities, and build relationships with them by working together to build virtue for all young people in your faith community.
  9. Post the “Virtue Calendar” in key, high-traffic areas throughout your buildings.
  10. Integrate virtue building into your gatherings in ways that fit with the specifics of your faith tradition. Create experiences for entire families. Think about how to include children and youth.
  11. Provide a variety of virtue educational opportunities for all ages. Create interactive, intergenerational sessions that encourage younger people to connect with older people.
  12. Provide opportunities for young people to volunteer in the community. Afterward, discuss the experience from a virtue perspective.
  13. Reinforce the positive values and morals of your faith community. Talk with young people about why these are an important part of your faith tradition.
  14. Plan ways for families and other intergenerational groups to spend time together, such as having a weekly or monthly meal, picnics, dances, concerts, or sports tournaments.
  15. Collaborate and share ideas with other faith-based and youth-based organizations to learn about and build virtue. Share “best of practices” information.
  16. Provide responsible, meaningful roles for youth. These could include being teaching assistants for young children, volunteering for child care, and pledging financial support from their allowances and part-time jobs, as well as worship activities, such as handing out bulletins, serving as readers, and being involved in music or other aspects of your faith tradition’s gatherings.
  17. Make your facility a virtue building place. Rent or provide free space for children and youth clubs to use when your building is typically empty. Create a homework room for children and youth to hang out in after school, particularly if many are going home to empty houses. Host a neighborhood child-care center.
  18. Educate your staff and lay leaders—in addition to the members at large—about virtue building. Discuss the implications that virtue building has for your faith community, and brainstorm ideas together.
  19. Create a book study group that gives children, youth, and adults opportunities to read and reflect on spiritual books.



Youth Minister Standards:

  1. All youth ministers will have total loyalty to each other and the “program”.
  2. Youth ministers will never disagree in front of members.
  3. Youth ministers will resolve their differences behind closed doors.
  4. Youth ministers will know the first and last names of all youth group members.
  5. Youth ministers will be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
  6. Youth ministers will be the perfect model of the characteristics and virtues that they demand from youth group members.
  7. Youth ministers will accept the jobs they are given.
  8. Youth ministers will anticipate the needs of the program and group.
  9. Assistant youth ministers should shield the Head youth minister from distractions that take away from mentoring and helping kids.
  10. Youth ministers need to be organized.
  11. Youth ministers need to be prepared.
  12. Youth ministers need to be theologically sound at what they are teaching.
  13. Good youth ministers get teenagers to believe in them, great youth ministers get teenagers to believe in themselves.
  14. Don’t by-pass moments of truth with kids. Teach them.
  15. Youth ministers need to give members lots of feedback. “Nice job”. “Great effort”,” Way to go”. Put every criticism in between two compliments. Tell the members they are good over and over. Members must “believe in themselves”.
  16. Youth ministers should be a great ambassadors for the “Program”. Youth ministers should talk to people in the faith community about the Youth Program. Youth Ministers should maintain a “positive” ministerial image wherever they go. (That’s hard to do in a bar!)
  17. Youth ministers should never lose sight of the fundamentals of their faith, and should return to them often.
  18. If anger enters the conversation between a youth minister and a members during class time or at an event, the youth minister needs to make sure that “fence is mended” before the member goes home. Never let a member go home doubting themselves, or the youth minister.
  19. Youth ministers will be great listeners.
  20. Youth ministers will be willing to lose battles to win the war.
  21. Youth ministers must earn respect. When we start, our respect tank is full; where it goes from there is up to the youth minister .
  22. Youth ministers must be willing to admit their mistakes and even shoulder the mistakes of members at times.
  23. Youth ministers will meet every night immediately following class for a short meeting before being dismissed.
  24. Youth ministers will always put their own family obligations ahead of the time spent in youth ministry. Family first.
  25. All youth ministers in the program will be completely accessible to the parents of members and the faith community in general.
  26. Youth ministers will make sure that player’s parents are communicated with regularly. Do not assume that members are passing the information on to parents; in fact, assume they are not.



Virtue is universal good. Virtue is an admirable quality. Virtue is whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is worthy of praise. Virtues can govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct. The practice of virtue leads to self-mastery, and the joy of leading a morally good life. Virtue can be grown through education, deliberate acts, perseverance in struggle, and following the examples of other virtuous people.

To refrain from sexuality that is contrary to ones morals.

— Chastity, 00

Intense emotionalism towards an interest or pursuit.

— Enthusiasm, 01

Advice, opinion, or instruction to a friend needing help.

— Counsel, 02

Using ones talents as a means of earning ones livelihood.

— Enterprise, 03

To be genuine, honest, not falsified or duplicated.

— Sincerity, 04

Favorably disposed and inclined to be kind and helpful to others.

— Friendliness, 05

Kindly, amiable, mild mannered and respectable.

— Gentleness, 06

Honesty, fairness, or integrity in ones beliefs, to hold in high respect.

— Honor, 07

The ability to perceive the comic or absurd quality of life. Good temperament.

— Humor, 08

Training of ones self, usually for improvement.

— Self-Discipline, 09

Willingness to comply with or submit to authority.

— Obedience, 10

Conformity to the rules of right and virtuous conduct.

— Morality, 11

Control or restraint of oneself or ones actions or feelings.

— Self-Control, 12

To surrender personal freedom and subject yourself to the will of another.

— Servitude, 13

The quality of being free from vanity. Not boastful. Humble.

— Modesty, 14

Fair and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions or practice differ from your own.

— Tolerance, 15

The actual state of affairs, honest, accurate, verity, platitude.

— Truth, 16

The readiness and ability to initiate action.

— Initiative, 17

Good or benevolent nature, considerate, helpful, humane, gentle, loving.

— Kindness, 18

Acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles from study.

— Knowledge, 19

The ability to go before others and show them the way. Guide. Direct.

— Leadership, 20

The state of being faithful to commitments, obligations, causes, and people.

— Loyalty, 21

Esteem or deference to a right of another, to honor, be courteous to.

— Respect, 22

Answerable or accountable for one’s own actions.

— Responsibility, 23

Proper esteem or regard for the dignity of one’s character.

— Self-Respect, 24

Devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country.

— Patriotism, 25

To undergo a penalty, pain, or loss in defending a principle, ideal, goal, or movement.

— Suffering-a-cause, 26

True to one word, promise, allegiance, or affection. To be loyal and constant.

— Faithfulness, 27

To yield to the possession or power of another person, influence, or course.

— Surrender, 28

Being tough, not giving up, coming back time and time again.

— Tenacity, 29

To grasp the significance, importance, or meaning of.

— Understanding, 30

Keeping a dignified composed manner even under stress.

— Poise, 31

Being wise and judicious in planning practical and future affairs.

— Prudence, 32

What is right, righteous, guided by truth, reason, and fairness.

— Justice, 33

Mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty and adversity.

— Fortitude, 34

Moderation or self-restraint in action.

— Temperance, 35

Belief, confidence or trust in a person or thing, not based on proof.

— Faith, 36

To look forward, to believe, desire, and trust that events will work out as desired.

— Hope, 37

Affectionate concern for the well-being of others.

— Love, 38

The ability to face difficulty, danger, or pain without fear.

— Courage, 39

Vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, emotions, or attitudes of others.

— Empathy, 40

Readiness or liberality in giving to those in need.

— Generosity, 41

Having a modest estimate of ones own importance. Not proud.

— Humility, 42

Adherence to moral principles. Congruence in thought, spoken word, and deed.

— Integrity, 43

Benevolent feeling toward those in need, generous actions.

— Charity, 44

The ability to suppress restlessness when delayed. Waiting without complaint.

— Patience, 45

Feeling or expressing gratitude or appreciation.

— Thankfulness, 46

Surrender or destruction of something prized for the sake of something of higher value.

— Sacrifice, 47

The ability to discern what is true of right, judicious and learned.

— Wisdom, 48

An act of helpful activity or aid.

— Service, 49

Great delight or happiness caused by something good.

— Joy, 51

The act of restraining ones self, avoiding extremes. Temperance.

— Moderation, 52