A while back, I ran across this article on Edutopia that looks at using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to address the needs of students in the classroom. Maslow’s theory, presented in 1943, remains a popular framework for sociology and psychology, even though it has its critics and skeptics. Maslow’s theory says that the most basic needs must be met before a person can focus on the other needs in the hierarchy.
I am wondering how we pay attention to these needs as we minister to and with people. Let’s look at the five types of needs, as classified by Maslow, and how they might relate to youth ministry (or really any ministry.)
Physiological Needs are the most basic needs – those things we need to survive such as food, water, air, and sleep. When we gather our group together, when we meet at any point, are we aware that these needs are being met? Simple things can be done to meet these most basic needs.
- Have pitchers of water and cups available any time you meet.
- If you are meeting after school or near a mealtime, make sure and have snacks or food. If your congregation can’t afford to provide food, have a parent sign ups, or simply remind people to bring snacks to your meeting. Keep in mind that some children and teens that come may not be able to provide their own snacks due to financial issues at home. Think about how best you can meet their needs as well.
- If you are doing a sleepover, make sure the youth have at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Security Needs are those that help us feel safe, stable, and secure such as having a job, health care, safe neighborhoods, and shelter. What are ways in which your congregation can look at the needs of the surrounding community and make a difference in the security needs in your neighborhood. On a more personal level, what will make your youth feel more safe and secure?
- Do a check-in each time you gather.
- Encourage them to write in journals while you meet so they have a place to record their thoughts, worries, and hopes.
- Find creative ways to support one another.
- Have clear expectations about behavior.
- Discuss with them what options they have when they are in an unsafe place, when they are feeling peer pressure, or when they don’t know where to turn.
Social Needs include belonging, love, and affection. This could not be a more important topic for young people as they are in the midst of discovering who they are and what that means in the world. This is not just about personal belonging and love, but also how we are conscious of bringing others love and helping everyone find a place to belong. It is about finding acceptance and companionship.
- Celebrate throughout the year – birthdays, getting driver’s license, being in a school play or sport, pretty much any accomplishment needs to be lifted up so they know we love them and that we are paying attention to their lives.
- Spend a session creatively naming those things we love about one another.
- Make sure you have expectations about how you treat one another.
- Have a retreat focusing on being made in the image of God and lifting up each individual’s personality traits, gifts, and passions and help them claim their identity.
Esteem Needs point to our need for achievement, recognition, and respect. What are the ways in which we can lift up each person’s contributions and gifts? This dovetails nicely with social needs. If people feel they belong, they will be willing to share what they are good at doing.
- Think of creative ways you can use each individual’s gifts and talents in your group – share music, create identity posters about your gifts and passions, invite a student to teach on a specific topic they are interested in, and invite them to contribute.
- If your group is interested in a specific topic, bring in a speaker or go hear a speaker about that topic.
- Have an evening or afternoon where you match up youth’s areas of interest and people from your congregation who work in the same field or area. Have them share ideas, dreams, and simply listen to one another.
Self-Actualization Needs is at the highest place in Maslow’s hierarchy. This is the place in which we become creative, solve problems, look at our personal growth, look beyond ourselves to help those around us. This is where having mentors and adults to help them on their journey becomes important. Reaching your potential is not an individualistic journey, but one that takes a community.
- Gathering mentors for the youth is important – who can they trust to share their dream and then help them make it a reality.
- Support the youth as they try new things or delve deeply into an area of study.
- Ask them questions about where they are on their journey and then ask questions of how this might impact their community or the world. Get them thinking big.
Needless to say, there is much more and I could go on. But rather than that, I challenge you to think about how your congregation and ministry is tending to these needs in the cyclical way that they come up throughout our lives.
How can we respond to these needs so we can each live into what God has made us to be?
Share your thoughts in the comments.