It’s a commonly proclaimed sentiment among Quaker adults: youth are a vital part of our Meetings. However, as children become teens they often drift away from Monthly Meeting communities, much to the discouragement of First Day teachers and other adult attenders! In order to keep teens relating to Meeting, adults need to figure out what works for young people in personal interactions, in First Day school curricula, and in Meeting activities and adapt our practices to create space that feels compelling to them. Below are advices addressing the topic of teen retention for Monthly Meetings. These were gathered from discussions that took place at the “Keep ‘Em Coming!” workshop from PYM’s February 2011 We Can Do It Day, in which participants considered feedback from some of PYM’s Young Friends and Young Adult Friends and shared the best practices of their own meetings.
Highlight and support opportunities for young Quakers to be together. Meeting adults can announce opportunities for youth organized by the Quarter or Yearly Meeting or at Quaker camps, as well as assist teens in planning their own times together, like movie nights, or an overnight service project. Additionally, Meetings can be generous with resources to assist teens in attending Quaker youth activities. Offering rides and funds, as well as chaperoning or being a Friendly Adult Presence help a lot.
Celebrate the youth in your Meeting and let them experience your support. Talk about their activities and accomplishments that take place outside of meeting during announcements or in the newsletter. Attend their games, performances, graduations, plays, and make sure they know you were there to see them.
Share yourself with youth. Strike up a genuine conversation and invite their thoughts. Try being a little silly or vulnerable. Opportunities for this kind of sharing can arise if Meetings intentionally plan inter-generational activity times – potlucks, maintenance and play days, dances, Santa’s workshops, etc.
Cover topics relevant to their life experience in First Day school. If Meeting is a place where teens can discuss and get consistent support for whatever is going on in their lives – whether it be questions about fitting in, drugs, sex, or relationships- than they will probably feel invested in continuing engagement with the Meeting.
Take the spiritual depth and possibility of youth seriously by asking and listening to their opinions on matters of spiritual import to the Meeting and by giving them the full benefit of Quaker Process, including Clearness Committees (for membership or another purpose, like perhaps what to do after high school).
Provide opportunities for youth empowerment through leadership. Teens are fully capable of fulfilling a variety of responsibilities, and having some may help them feel more invested and engaged. Some ways that Meetings could offer that are by giving teens a role in the rise of Meeting process (leading songs, etc.), inviting them to committee work that might interest them, or by suggesting that they have their own committee focused around a topic of their choice (for instance, different forms of fun and creative service to the Meeting or the world).
Engage with technology. Real and important expressions of life and community building are happening on the Internet, as well as fun and exciting worldly interests- that’s why youth think all the gadgets to access it are cool! If individual adults and Meetings as a whole can engage with these forms of communication and community building, Meeting may feel more relevant and accessible to teens. For instance, interaction through Facebook is sometimes more likely to get a young person’s attention and response than mail, email, or phone calls.
Stay in touch when they graduate. It’s always important for young people to know that Meeting adults care for them, and that doesn’t change when they leave high school. Meeting adults’ efforts to reach out and express care when teens have left home can have a grounding effect that makes returning to Meeting on breaks or visits home more appealing.