This blog post should generate a lot of interest. If you are a student pastor or a leader in a youth group, you probably have been faced with this concept and question in your mind at some point. If you are a student reading this post, you probably have been faced with the frustration of the rules that a youth pastor or leader put on you for dating. I want to post today about “should we allow dating in our student ministry? Here is the reality: you cannot control dating. That is a parent decision. It is not up to you to tell students that they cannot date someone of the opposite sex. That is the parent’s call on those type of decisions. So, the answer to this blog post is fairly simple, you cannot control it, but I want to take this discussion to a different level, how do we approach dating in our youth group? I tend to take a more conservative approach to this than most. I look at teen dating as a waste of time personally. Please do not be offended by that, but the odds are slim to none that a relationship in middle school and high school will continue. Some do, and that is great, but many do not. More often, I see relationships built-in student ministry, and then a result is horrible and ugly break ups that affect the friendships, it causes drama, and in a lot of cases tends to be uncomfortable for other students surrounding these dating issues. I want to share some of our philosophy on how we deal with dating:

  1. Teach the students and their parents that youth group is not a dating activity– It is frustrating when you do a youth group activity, and you have a few couples who cannot bear the thought of leaving the side of their significant other (some are in 8th grade)! This is crazy. I try to teach our students and parents that when they come on a youth group function, it is not an opportunity for them to get some “much-needed” alone time. Teach your students that they will regret one day not enjoying time with some of their friends on youth functions while they were spending every waking minute with their girlfriend/boyfriend. It is a group activity so be a part of the group.
  2. Do not allow physical contact– Now, you may have a different approach, but this is the best approach that we have found. I have found that if you give them an inch, they are going to take another inch. They always will take you further so in this area, I set the standard pretty high on youth functions. I do not allow physical contact. This includes holding hands, kissing, or holding each other inappropriately. We have had some visitors come and do these things, and that is a different issue. You do not need to lose students over this. If there is a visitor, you are going to deal with them much differently than a regular attendee. I am speaking specifically about the regular attenders. Have this rule and communicate it to the students and leaders. Teach them that this is for their protection. Teach them that holding hands in and of itself is not wrong, but that it is the best principle and formality to have on a youth group trip.
  3. Be loving about this– This is where we can go wrong. You must be loving in your approach. Do not come down so hard that you lose the students in this issue. Be patient with them, and work with them if they make a mistake. Students take offense to a rule like this, because they see it as another harsh rule that they are being held under, and it makes them feel like you are trying to be the parent. This is why it is important to explain yourself correctly, and show them a great amount of love.
  4. Always be in a group of 3 or more on youth functions This should eliminate any grouping up by themselves. This also provides a help to them not to be tempted. I always set this rule on trips so that students will be put in the best positions to do what is right.
  5. Do not be afraid to discipline a student if they continue to break this rule– This is where it gets tough, but if they continue to break the rule, there has to be a consequence. By the way, tell the youth group the consequence up front so that they were warned, and cannot come back with, “I did not know.” Discipline is never fun, but it has to be done so that the students will learn the value in obeying authority, and learn the value in consequences for breaking a rule.

I would love your thoughts on this, and if you have found something that works better, please comment to let me know.

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17 thoughts on “Should we allow Dating in our student ministry?

  1. I love this post and really agree with it all. I really appreciate the fact that you separated rules for regulars and visitors. The fact is that rules without relationship just leads to rebellion. I personally don’t have as strict of guidelines (ie. holding hands) but that doesn’t mean that won’t change. Thanks for posting, you just got another subscriber.

    1. Thanks Jeremy, I appreciate your feedback man! Yeah, always have different rules for visitors and regulars. The regulars should know the routine, and the we have more to be concerned about with the visitors in a way, because we do not know where their heart is. The heart is the root of the problem. Too often, we tend to try and change things with students on the outside, but the inside is what we need to pray about changing! Thanks for subscribing, and stay in touch.

    1. Russ, nice to see you on here man! I appreciate your question. We have had a couple of issues where physical contact became a big deal, and students broke the rules. Here are the steps that I take: 1. Warn them 2. Speak with them privately 3. Speak to their parents 4. Separate them. These are some simple steps. Normally, you will never have to go further than step 4. Hope this helps.

  2. As a parent that has been in this situation and as a leader that has faced this situation, I am in total agreement that our youth grouth is not a place of social dating. Rules and boundaries will be always be a part of life at any age. And I especially love the part about “being loving about this.” This is where I had to learn not to allow my “controlling nature” to take over but allow the Holy Spirit to give me the right words to say.
    Real reality tells me that you will never convince a teenager that dating in middle school or high school is “a waste of time” so as a parent of a teenager, I do believe that there must be rules and boundaries and we must hold strong to those even if we become “unpopular.” I believe that’s where some of us parents and leaders stray, we want to be popular and sometimes we just can’t be but we can let them no that no matter what, we love them and are setting in place guide lines that will benefit them not just for the moment but for the rest of their lives.
    Thanks for approaching what sometimes is a subject no one wants to approach.

  3. I say great job on this. I would also, however, do something of a purity retreat or purity series. Our teens are so bombarded with this stuff that often they don’t even see how much it effects their lives. Check out Pure Desire for teens. I havn’t seen it myself, but the adult version is pretty good to work through as the whole concept is really heavy in our society.

  4. Smart man. We’ve spent 43 years watching teenage angst and the destruction it can leave. I appreciate the great job you seem to be doing as you serve the Lord.
    Mrs. H

  5. thanks dude- though I maybe not agree, feels like you are trying to insulate our students from what is going on and keep them from experiencing pain and challenges–high school relationships create drama, so true- and they don’t last- even more true, but my heart is that in the pain and drama we can be a light showing a better way to live and act instead of awkwardness and disconnection. As a youth leader you are guiding these students on how to develop appropriate relationships, in dating, in friendships, and appropriate ways to end those relationships i.e. not via twitter, text, or facebook- its life and to run from it or say it shouldn’t happen seems to be naive. It would seem that an insulating attitude sets students up for a reality check in college that may lead them in the wrong direction but again- simply my opinion. I haven’t opened the bible yet in our discussion 🙂

    I do hear your heart in this and appreciate that! Your heart in wanting the best for these kids comes through and I can truly respect that in you as a leader. Found your site from the 10 ways to keep youth leaders and loved it! If this is the model that you are making that dating decision by again I don’t necessarily agree but I love your approach to handling it, and I don’t hear you making a hard and fast rule but more of a suggestion that has worked for you 🙂

    Stoked to keep checking your blog for more quality stuff about youth ministry 🙂

    1. David, hey man, thanks for checking out the blog! Yeah, I even admitted, I tend to take more of a conservative approach to dating. I have seen it cause way more problems than help over the years ya know. I hope that I communicate myself clear that I am not preventing dating necessarily. I am more preventing the thought of using youth group as a dating outing, and using youth group as a way to get physical with the opposite sex. These are the two reasons why we place some strict guidelines on the students. I commented below about steps in discipline, we are patient with these students about stuff like this, because we know that students are going to date and want to experience it. That is inevitable.

      Thanks for the understanding and respect bro. Stay in touch and check back often for updates and new things in student ministry.

  6. Josh, while I agree that teen dating creates a lot of angst, and sometimes even creates all kinds of tension in youth group that isn’t particularly helpful, I prefer to allow them to date through youth group for several reasons:

    1. Because I can observe them in their dating behavior, it gives me opportunities to help mentor them and train them in how to deal in a healthy and scriptural way with their relationships. I can’t address what I don’t see.
    2. Kids need to learn how to relate to the opposite sex by practice. Generally, they’re pretty bad at it because the culture has taught them so poorly, but I can teach them far better. So by allowing them to date at youth group gives them a chance to learn how to relate to each other in a biblical and acceptable way.
    3. Because of openness in #1 & 2, I often (though not as much as I would prefer) get asked to counsel them when it comes time to break up, and I prefer to counsel them as to how to do it than for them to follow the advice of their friends.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. Jim, I see some of your points. I appreciate you giving me input and being willing to agree to disagree on the matter. I am a bit loose on some things, but this one is one that I would rather be more conservative than lenient on personally.

      Thanks for your input, and drop by the blog anytime!

      1. I think of it this way: John 4. The disciples, like other Jews, were not good in a Samaritan context. “The Samaritan issue” was difficult and it created problems. What would be easiest would be to make rules and avoid the whole thing. But Jesus saw it as a training opportunity, and took his disciples there. Sure, they might make some mistakes (Just how did they treat people in the village when they went in to buy lunch?—the same people it ended up they’d be witnessing to about an hour later), but the teaching moment was worth it.

  7. Great post. We have these rules in our youth ministry and the regular students don’t even question it anymore. Currently we do not have anyone dating but the rules still remain. On trips in the van it is one row girls and one row boys. If we have an uneven number the only row that can be mixed is the front row where we can keep a close eye on them. When we are at the mall or other place where they can go off there is a 3 person rule but it can’t be 2 guys and 1 girl they have to have even numbers so usually if they are going to mix girls with boys there are more than 3 people in the group.
    I’m not saying that they all like the rules but they have learned to respect them. We even have a 3 second rule on hugging whether you are dating or not. If my husband and I hold hands or if he puts his arm around me, the teens will yell “No PDA” These were rules put in place by the previous youth pastor over 3 years ago and we decided to keep them.

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