by Jean Lehn Epp, Interim Coordinator of Youth Ministry Resources - In the book of Acts, the first followers of Jesus had a daily practice of worshipping in the Temple and extending that worship into their homes and meals together. As you think about worship at your church on a typical Sunday, where do you see youth? Are they sitting with their families? Are they sitting together? Do they sit at the front of the church? Do they gather at the back? Do youth come to the worship service and leave? Do they avoid worship and give their time to being at Sunday School? How you respond to these observations can give you clues about how youth feel about the worship at your church. Where youth position themselves in worship services can reflect their comfort level with their peers or family. Sitting at the back can be a sign of being disengaged from what happens in worship. Their visible absence from worship can be sending the message that youth feel there is nothing engaging their purpose for being there. Spending time helping youth reflect on their purpose and role for being in worship can help them develop the tools to understand and be enriched by their own worship experiences. Like any of us, youth also need to experience worshipping God that goes beyond Sunday morning. How are we inviting youth to take time to worship God in all parts of their lives?
Discerning together with youth what is important for our worship and critically thinking through why we do what we do, will help everyone involved to understand what connects us to God in ways that feed our souls.
We get anxious when youth participate in the ministries directed to youth and youth events but don’t connect in with the worshipping church community on a Sunday morning. If our goal in youth ministry is to create youth that plug into the life of the church, youth who avoid our worship services leave us feeling frustrated and disappointed. We wonder what else we can do. If youth are feeling frustrated and disengaged from the worship of the church, maybe some adults are too. It is hard to recreate a culture of worship or invite worship to evolve into a shared and sacred space for every generation in the church. Consider inviting groups in the church, including youth, to share some of their hopes and dreams for worship in the church. If you work through a visioning exercise and discover you value everything you do now in worship, it does not mean the exercise is a waste of time. Discerning together with youth what is important for our worship and critically thinking through why we do what we do, will help everyone involved to understand what connects us to God in ways that feed our souls. You just might make some changes that ignite some passion or discover gifts that have been underdeveloped and integrate these into your worship. Regardless of how an examining or visioning exercise happens, inviting youth to be a part of a process helps them to embrace worship as their own and becomes a shared experience that is now sacred to them as well. Their input may also be contagious to the adults who might not necessarily be looking to make changes but could be more willing to create room for the ideas and energy of the youth.
Engage youth in worship by:
- Inviting youth into a season of exploring different styles and types of worship. This can be done within the regular worship of your church or visiting a number of different churches or religious services in your community. Make time to talk about what is similar and what is different from the way we worship.
- Invite youth to participate in worship throughout the year. Youth can read scripture, share during children’s time, help with ushering, run technology, share about service trips, give a perspective on a scripture text, etc.
- Have youth share a favourite song or scripture and have them explain why the song or story means something to them during a worship service.
- Have the youth create some art-work to display in the sanctuary to correspond to a sermon series or something that they have been studying in Sunday School or Bible study.
- Sarah Kathleen Johnson has put together a great resource for helping youth to think theologically, spiritually and intentionally about worship that leads to youth composing and sharing components of worship.
- Need to plan worship with youth and don’t have a worship band? Paul Turner gives his ideas for youth worship from individual reflection through prayer stations to inviting youth into mini prayer groups.
- In the guide, Sacred Space: A Hands-On Guide to Creating Multisensory Worship Experiences for Youth Ministry, Dan Kimball and Lilly Lewin bring together resources in one place. Engaging youth in worship is even more important as the culture around us discourages us from slowing down and making space for connecting with God.