Diversity & Inclusion In Youth Ministry

A diverse group of teenagers sitting in a circle at youth group

I’m an incredibly imperfect student pastor, and the youth ministry environments I create are imperfect, too. One of the areas of weakness I’m working on right now in my youth ministry is creating a culture of inclusivity. Students are naturally inclusive on all kinds of social issues, and a lot of that is great! But when it comes to just socializing, awkward teenagers are still awkward teenagers, and they often have a hard time thinking outwardly and including the new kid or the kid who’s different.

I’m sure I’m not the only one navigating this in my youth ministry, though. You are too, probably. And of course if you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve likely seen a surge of discussions around diversity and inclusion. It’s a hot topic—and for good reason. Our world is incredibly diverse, and that diversity is reflected in our youth groups. But way before valuing diversity and inclusion was trendy with Gen Z, it was a valuable aspect of the gospel.

The gospel is fundamentally inclusive. Jesus didn’t just minister to the religious elite or those who looked and thought like Him. He reached out to the marginalized, the outcasts, and those who society deemed unworthy. So, for you and me, seeing through a gospel lens means doing our best to ensure our youth ministry environments reflect the inclusivity of the gospel. Our mission is to create spaces where every student feels seen, valued, and loved—just as they are. But there’s usually something that gets in the way: our own biases.

One of the first steps in embracing diversity is recognizing our own biases.

Let’s be real: we all have them. These biases can be based on race, socioeconomic status, gender, or even personality types. But the gospel calls us to transcend these biases and see each student as a unique creation of God, worthy of love and respect.

Take some time to reflect on your own biases. How might they be affecting your interactions with students? Are there certain groups of students you tend to gravitate towards more than others? Are there students who feel less included because they don’t fit the mold of what you’re comfortable with?

You might need to take some time to reflect on those questions honestly. I probably do, too. In the meantime, here are a few best practices for being more conscientious of diversity and inclusion in your youth ministry:

Diversify Your Leadership: One of the best ways to create an inclusive environment is to have a diverse leadership team. This shows your students that leadership isn’t limited to a certain type of person and provides them with relatable role models.

Celebrate Differences: Take time to learn about and celebrate the different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences of your students. This could be through themed nights, sharing meals from different cultures, or having students share their stories.

Inclusive Language: Be mindful of the language you use. Avoid terms or phrases that could alienate or offend certain groups.

Address Issues: Don’t shy away from addressing issues of injustice, racism, or discrimination. Create a safe space where students can discuss these topics openly and learn how the gospel speaks into these issues.

Embracing diversity and inclusion in youth ministry isn’t just about being politically correct; it’s about being gospel centered. It’s about living out the gospel in a way that reflects God’s heart for all people. By creating inclusive environments, we not only reflect the kingdom of God but also help our students see the gospel in action more clearly.

Mike Haynes is a full-time youth pastor and the creator of G Shades Youth Ministry Curriculum. Feel free to reach out to Mike anytime over email at mike@gshades.org
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