Open House: How to use cookery to grow your youth group
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic young people are more disconnected from others, church, youth work, and even God, than ever before. This has had a significant impact upon youth groups, with many being smaller and struggling with consistent attendance from young people. As someone who runs a church youth group and is experiencing this firsthand, I recognise that it can therefore seem difficult to build a strong sense of community and can frustratingly feel as if there is little growth - both numerically and within the young people’s lives and faith. For those of us who are encountering these challenges new creative resources can be incredibly helpful, and so we have developed Open House.
What is Open House?
Youthscape’s Open House cookery programme has been designed to facilitate meaningful relationships amongst a group of young people and can be run with the aim being to either connect with new young people, or to invest in the friendships and development of young people within a group that already exists. Over eight sessions, those taking part will learn to cook a range of different dishes, be encouraged to reflect upon and build healthy relationships, grow in confidence and social skills, and be given the opportunity to use all they have learnt to host a meal for others. There is also the option to incorporate specific conversations around faith when running the programme, with the aim being to create a space where young people can reflect upon their relationship with God and can get to know him more.
Open House has been run with over 400 young people in Luton in different formats over the past four years and has made a significant impact in many lives. It has been delivered primarily at Youthscape, with a new group of young people taking part each time, and has created many connections that have translated into strong friendships within the group and long-term investment from youth workers into young people’s lives. For those who have taken part, the act of learning to cook together and then sitting down to eat that food in community has been a transformative experience that has stretched and challenged them and has taught them a great deal about themselves.
Using Open House to facilitate growth in your youth group
As the benefit of taking part in Open House has been evident for so many young people we decided that turning it into a resource that could be used by youth workers to run the programme in other contexts would be really helpful. This resource can be delivered exactly as it has been written to facilitate growth within your youth group, or elements of it can be adjusted to fit in with other sessions you have planned if you feel that would achieve what you want more effectively. Below is a brief overview of how you may want to use the resource in a range of different ways to facilitate growth within your youth group:
Open House can be run as an outreach tool by asking local schools, professionals and parents/ carers who you may have connections with to refer young people who they think would benefit from taking part. As it is significantly skills-based it is an easy programme to ask others to suggest young people for, and if you would like to connect those young people into your youth group you can create the opportunity for them to get to know others who attend by inviting them to the meal.
Consistent AttendanceAs Open House is a short-term programme which focuses on working towards hosting a meal for others using the skills that have been learnt over the previous sessions, running it is an effective way to encourage consistent attendance. Once young people have taken part in all eight sessions they will be in a routine of regularly participating and this will hopefully translate into your youth group and any other youth work you may be running.
There are three main elements to an Open House session - cooking together, eating together, and taking part in activities which equip the young people with tools for healthy relationships. Each of these elements plays a key role in creating stronger friendships both within and outside the group. These elements can also be used separately within other youth group sessions, or on their own within an Open House session to help facilitate stronger friendships in the young people’s lives.
If Open House is being run in an overtly faith-based setting then discussion around the theology that underpins the programme and how God demonstrates healthy relationships towards us can be included. If you are running the programme as an outreach tool you may not feel that it is appropriate to do this, but if the aim is to build deeper faith amongst the young people in your youth group then you may choose to run the full Open House programme including this or to take elements of it and use them within other youth group sessions.
Open House creates the opportunity for young people to develop socially, emotionally, and spiritually, and different elements of the programme lend themselves to greater development in each of these areas. Taking part in the cookery and hosting the meal plays a key role in promoting social development, engaging in the discussion and activities supports emotional development, and incorporating the faith elements encourages spiritual development. If you feel that the young people you are working with require greater support in one of these areas then you can either focus more time in the session on the element of the programme that provides that, or you can take that element and use it in other youth group sessions.
Wider CommunityYou may want to invest in the growth of your youth group in a slightly different way and create greater integration with a wider community. This could be a church or an area that you feel it would be helpful for the young people to serve and learn from. Invites for the Open House meal can be given to people within your church or local area if you would like to use this as an opportunity to create connections between the young people and a wider group. Alternatively, you may want young people who have taken part in the programme or who have participated in other cookery sessions to use their skills to host regular meals for others within your setting, or to go and volunteer with other local organisations who may be providing food to serve the community.
How do I get hold of Open House?
If you would like to use the Open House programme in any of the ways suggested you can buy the full resource which includes a Leader’s Guide, a Participant’s Guide, access to eight cookery teaching videos, and a guide which outlines how to run Open House in a Christian context. This can be purchased on the Youthscape store at