I have been in youth ministry for over twelve years. In college I was introduced to the One-Eared Mickey Mouse Model of youth ministry. I ran into it again while earning my master’s of divinity with a concentration in Christian education.
The One-Eared Mickey Mouse looks like it sounds. It is a big circle that represents the church and off to one side there is a smaller circle that touches but does not overlap the big circle that represents the youth group.
It is a simple drawing that asks churches a very serious question: Are our youth treated like a real part of the church?
In my ministry I’ve seen some churches that do well at living as one community. I have also seen a few that sadly live up to the One-Eared Mickey Mouse Model. Churches must be intentional about forming a community that includes everyone.
There are a few characteristics I’ve seen at work in churches where the model does not exist. These churches include youth in every aspect of community. Youth are encouraged and invited to serve on committees and boards.
Not only are youth invited, they are also listened to and their input is welcomed and sought. Teenagers are smart and know when they are actually wanted and listened too.
In these churches, youth are also included in planning worship. An effort is made to ensure that elements that youth will be able to connect with are included. Worship is about the whole of Christ’s body connecting together and offering praise and thanks. In many churches it is the only time all age groups are together. Churches that break away from the One-Eared Mickey Mouse make sure that worship is designed with all members in mind.
These churches also make sure they are investing in their youth. They do this by giving the youth a place that is all theirs to regularly meet in. By making sure the youth have their own holy space, a church says, “We value you here.”
That same message is sent by providing other resources too. Here in the South we are famous for our hospitality. We offer sweet tea and smiles when people come to visit us. Our churches don’t have to offer sweet tea to teenagers, but we do have to offer them something to let them know they are welcomed and cared for.
The churches that are doing a good job at really allowing youth to be part of their communities also take seriously what their youth programs are doing. In those churches you can ask almost any member what the youth have been up to and they can tell you. They know what trips they have been doing and what they have been studying during youth meetings. In these churches most members can also tell you the names of all of the youth. They find this information out by talking to the youth in their church.
The heart of the issue of moving youth from outside to inside is to make them feel cared for and important. That’s important for any group in church. Take some time this week to look around your own faith community. If you are missing a group, chances are that group isn’t feeling appreciated, cared for or welcomed.
Don’t stop by just identifying your church’s One-Eared Mickey Mouse group. Put your faith into action and do something to make that group feel loved. You may be the person to break the One-Eared Mickey Mouse in your own church.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Associated Baptist Press, www.abpnews.com