Teenagers, by nature, are inappropriate. Their immature brains, sometimes, come up with terrible things to say and do without any guardrails or filters.
I’ve never had to create a formal code of conduct, mostly because I’ve never needed one. The students who came to my youth group were mostly well behaved, I had a good group of volunteers and I didn’t put up with nonsense. That being said, if I had to create one, these are the questions I would ask. I hope they’ll help you as well.
What is the goal of a code of conduct?
The goal of a code of conduct is not to keep bad kids out but to keep all kids safe. A code of conduct informs the group of best practices for human beings, backed by scripture and upholds the integrity of the group so everyone can enjoy, learn about and practice their faith in God.
Do you need a code of conduct?
A code of conduct is necessary when:
- A group of students become unmanageable to the point where you cannot effectively teach or run the program without incidents that work against the overall goal of the youth ministry.
- You have regular outreaches that invite those who do not know Chris but need to know what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable, behavior on church grounds.
- If you have students who do not come to youth because they feel unsafe due to the lack of discipline among students.
Who should create the code of conduct?
A code of conduct should have a hand from everyone it effects. You, the leader, can come up with a frame work, but you should also ask your students and leaders what should be included in the code and why. This process will give you insight into what kind of group your students actually want to have and your place in managing it.
After a general list has been put together, take time to refine it by sharing the code with a few trusted parents and your pastor. Remind everyone that the goal of the code is to keep students safe and unify your group going forward.
What is your disciplinary procedure if someone breaks the code?
I had an incident one time where a young man was consistently pursuing a young lady in our group. No code of conduct was going stop him. After several warnings, prayers and discussion, I told this young man to take a month off to see if this group was really for him.
“You can do that?” Yes, and it should be done. If you will not discipline students, even at the risk of losing them, you are missing an opportunity to exemplify how God deals with us, His children,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:11,12
I told the student, “If after a month you decide you miss the group, and want to come back, I need you to abide by the standards we put in place. If after a month, you don’t miss group, then I wish you well.”
This discipline caused an uprising among his friends and I received texts from those students telling me they would not be back. I would not have changed a thing.
Discipline is hard but necessary. One of these young men went on to be a youth pastor in the same denomination and I have a feeling he might, now, understand why I had to do what I did.
As I stated earlier, the goal of a code isn’t to keep anyone out, it’s to give your group rails to ride on so the mission of discipleship and growth is not derailed
If a short break from youth is one of the final disciplines you give, with say expulsion being the final step, then you need some steps that makes the disciplinary process fair.
When any part of the code is broken, with severity, I suggest these steps
- Communicate to the student that you love them.
- Let the parent of that student know that you’re concerned and want to help.
- Communicate to your pastor where you are in any disciplinary process.
- Let the student know that their behavior is working against the overall mission of the group but you believe they can be a part of fulfilling it.
The code is not a just a “do not” list, it’s a way of sharing what is required from each person so the mission of your group, and of the gospel, can be fulfilled.
How specific should your code be?
In the case I just described, I would not put in the code, “No harassing the opposite sex”, this would be too on the nose. You shouldn’t create specific rules for specific incidents, remember, the goal isn’t to make an example of anyone or to drive anyone away. The goal is to create boundaries so the work of God can go on.
Make the code as general as possible so that anyone new who comes to your group isn’t wondering, “Why is that in there?” Here’s an example of a list found on tables in one restaurant, and then posted on Reddit
If this was a joke, then, well done, but this list feels like at least some if it is based on the owners dislikes and possible past experiences.
Here a simple example between specific and general,
“No skimpy outfits” is specific.
“Dress with respect” is general.
How long should the code be?
The restaurant list has 23 “no’s ” is quite funny but 23 no’s to a teenager is a bucket list of “rules” to be broken.
My suggestion is to keep the code short, 5-7 standards, including
- How they present themselves when at youth
- How you’d like them to interact with each other while at youth
- How you’d like them to interact with God while at youth
How should you communicate the code?
Once you have your code put together and it has been approved by a consensus of parents, students, leaders and your pastor, here are a few ways to roll it out.
Take five weeks (if you have five principles) and teach on a principle of the code a week.
Make it social
Create social media graphics and short videos of students sharing why a particular principle is important to them and how they try to reflect it in their every day life.
You could just make a list and post it, but what fun is that? Take the opportunity to get creative.
Is there a way you can affirm the code around your room like Be Kind, Love One Another, etc. Let students create art or design signs that communicate what your group is about.
Find ways to reward students who are picking up what you’re laying down. When you see students living the code or encouraging other to do so, find ways to highlight it and affirm it. Give them a free youth group t-shirt or wrist band. Celebrate it
Students don’t just NEED boundaries, but DESIRE them and embrace them if you don’t make it sound like you’re running a work camp. Celebrate and affirm whatever code you’ve created with a pizza party or camp fire with s’mores; whatever works for your group.
My hope is that this document has given you enough information to create a code of conduct that both creates expectations for and unifies your group.
Let me conclude with one of my favorite quotes,
Rules without relationship leads to rebellion
A code, by itself, won’t keep students from misbehaving, it will only afford you the opportunity, as the leader, to enter their lives to share how Christ can transform them.
A code with without compassion makes you an enforcer, not a pastor.
Keep in mind that the code is not meant to squash all bad behavior, it’s meant to lift expectations, cast vision and afford students a group that is safe and a place to grow to be more Christ-like.
To get a list of questions to create your own Youth Ministry Code of Conduct and a sample code I created, subscribe to my newsletter