Challenges also have emerged in this regard. Many children and youth who are visiting and attending youth groups come from home environments where religious teaching, training, and practice have been nonexistent or from families challenged by divorce and relational disruptions. Such youth often need to be oriented to the expectations and norms of the youth group setting in regards to acceptable behavior, dress, and use of language. It cannot be assumed that they will have even a cursory knowledge of the faith community's beliefs, religious ritual, or behavioral expectations. Meeting their psychological, social, and religious needs, while simultaneously serving the different needs of youth raised in the religious tradition, is often difficult. There is no consensus on how to address this challenge. Some youth groups create parallel tracks that tailor lessons according to the level of assimilation or spiritual maturity youth manifest, and provide social activities that include all youth. Other youth groups encourage core youth to be positive role models and mentors for new and less assimilated members.
EMBRACING MISSION AND CROSS-CULTURAL EXPERIENCES
Children in the 21st century live in a multicultural world. Diversity for them is not a theoretical idea, but a commonplace aspect of daily existence, whether in their neighborhood, school, or house of worship. In order to foster understanding and peaceful coexistence, many youth groups add a comparative religion component to their youth group experience. This may entail using a curriculum that examines other religions and compares their beliefs and practices to one's own, or visiting other houses of worship.
The familiar youth group trip is also being transformed by the desire to experience other cultures. Many youth groups are forsaking such time-worn activities as ski trip retreats for more adventurous undertakings, such as short-term trips to other countries. Although educational in nature, there is almost always some service component built into the cross-cultural encounter. A youth group from the heartland of the United States may visit a Mexican church and teach in a vacation Bible school. A youth choral or bell choir might organize a tour and visit several locations over a 2-week period. Or, teenagers might travel to the Caribbean to help build a church school wing. Increasingly, crosscultural travel is becoming a two-way street. Countries that traditionally have hosted visitors are now sending youth delegations to other countries.
The benefits from these cross-cultural experiences are many. For the youth themselves, exposure to other cultures enlarges their worldview, increases their appreciation of their own culture, and gives them an opportunity to express and apply their faith. Congregations that sponsor the youth mission events also benefit from this exchange. Their adult members are given an opportunity to express support for their youth (financially as well as through prayer), and are often surprised by how the youth group's postmission trip presentation affects their own religious presuppositions and perceptions. The host congregations benefit as well. Resources for needed projects are received, supportive relationships and positive friendships are established, and follow-up opportunities for continuing interaction (such as ongoing sister church relationships) become possible.