Welcome to the new and improved site for Youth Ministry Conversations. If you are new to the site, welcome! The site had a little redesign this past week. Take a look around at the new features.
This month we will be focusing on Worship each week with our questions. After this week the questions are:
- How would you discuss baptism with a youth?
- How would you discuss Eucharist/Communion with a youth?
- What are ways your church encourages youth to be active participants in leading worship?
For this week though the question is…….
“How do you see the Church engaging youth in worship services?”
Sara Clarke serves as Minister with Youth at Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. She graduated from Georgetown College and Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. In her personal life, Sara is excited to be engaged to marry Neal this summer.
As I walk in and take my seat at the front of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, I find myself looking out on the faces of our congregation. I’m a big believer in intergenerational community and here and now, people of all ages are gathered together for a common purpose: worship.
To my left sit the youth, packed close together in their unofficial pew. They’re here to pass the peace, to hear God’s word proclaimed, to rediscover hope, and to be faithfully present within this fellowship. While their reasons may not be all that different from those of the adults that surround them, engaging them in worship often requires special attention. How can the church be a place that draws youth in, empowers their leadership, and provides for them in the ways that they need?
First, let us ask youth to be responsible for elements of worship that are already there. I am fortunate to be in a fellowship that values congregational involvement during services, providing an easy opportunity to ask youth to read Scripture and to pray. But there are other possibilities to consider too. Youth might be invited to sing in the choir, serve as greeters, operate technical equipment, take up offering, or serve communion. Many aspects of worship don’t need to be limited to adults and asking youth to be responsible enables them to take partial ownership of what is happening. They are more likely to be present, attentive, and passionate about worship and specifically their role in it.
Second, let us consider the unique talents that youth may offer. Many of them are already involved in music, drama, and art programs already or they may be interested in forming a youth choir, drama team, etc. Ask them to sing, to dance, to play their instrument, to perform a skit, to read a poem, to paint or sculpt, or to create works of art that enhance the theme, represent what is on our hearts, and engage not only them, but also the rest of us in worship.
A word of caution is needed here. Involving youth in this way has the potential to morph worship into a talent show in which we simply humor them. The purpose is to use creativity to focus on God, rather than the performance. This is more difficult when we want to encourage our young people. A youth plays or sings a solo and we break out in applause. But for whom? Let it be for the God who gave them this gift. Really, if we want to truly engage artistic young worship leaders, please hold the applause and see their gift as a meaningful part of the service. Thank them for their leadership and offering of worship, rather than their level of mastery. Keep the focus on God and help them to see how their talents enhance our worship.
Third, let us consider their unique position in life. Think of them when writing sermons and choosing music. Say and sing something that speaks directly to where they are. And when passing the offering plate, please don’t assume they have nothing to give. Treat them as you would other worshippers and pass the plate down the row. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge them and include them as fellow worshippers.
When we really think about it, youth are not all that different from the rest of us when it comes to worship. Just like you and me, they need to be involved, to offer their gifts, and to experience worship in a way that speaks to them. And so on Sundays, when I see this gathering of young people welcomed into the worshipping community as fellow travelers, I cannot help but praise God for all that they are and all that they do to engage us all in worship.
Alix Davidson Keller recently completed her Masters of Divinity at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. She served in youth ministry at Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, KY for almost 5 years. Currently, she lives in Louisville, KY with her sweet husband, Joshua. Alix is passionate about missions and loves to travel, hike, and make jewelry.
Since leaving my former ministry position and moving to a new city, I’ve spent the last 5 months visiting a lot of different churches (and even enjoying an occasional quiet Sunday morning at home or traveling – crazy, right?!). With “Youth Minister” still embedded in my identity, I notice the roles and presence of youth in these worship services. Unfortunately, in most churches there isn’t much to notice. In some churches that I know have large numbers of youth present for Wednesday nights, events, and retreats, there were only a handful in the pews and rarely any youth leadership during worship. In other places, the only youth presence in worship was in the bulletin announcements (aka youth minister job security). Though my church visits are, by no means, a research study, it is evident to me that involving youth in worship is a struggle we are all facing.
I realize this isn’t the most uplifting picture, but I continue to have a strong, realistic sense of hope about how we can increasingly engage youth in communal worship. Here are a few positive things I have seen during these visits:
- Youth lighting Advent candles
- Youth sharing about an upcoming camp they are trying to raise money for who better for the congregation to hear this from than the youth themselves!
- Youth sitting together during worship – I sometimes worry that this lends itself to distractions and perhaps a lack of communication with the rest of the congregation; however, it does build youth fellowship and make worship less intimidating for youth whose families do not attend.
The reality is that we can provide our youth with lots of opportunities in worship. They are capable of playing instruments, singing, reading scripture, carrying a Bible or cross during a processional, creating works of art, performing skits, praying, or leading responsive readings (just to name a few). Many of them have the spiritual depth and are developing the confidence to lead in worship. This is contrasted with the reality that youth often spend their Sunday mornings recovering from sleepovers, doing homework that was pushed aside all weekend, and playing in sports tournaments. There isn’t anything wrong with these things but …
We need to explain to our youth the importance of communal worship so that it becomes a priority! Worship is formative – for all of us. Through worshipping together, we develop a sense that our faith is bigger than us, our church community, our denomination, or our country. The kingdom of God is vast and includes people from many diverse walks of life, including young people. It is important for the older people in the congregation to get to know them and learn from them. And youth can certainly benefit from friends and mentors who have 10, 25, or even 70 more years of life experience!
Another idea: Some churches are beginning to move toward having a worship planning committee, so that worship services can reflect the diverse membership of the church. This is a great place for youth to have a voice in the church and express their creativity and opinions. Another option would be to ask youth to complete a survey or just engage them in a conversation about their worship styles and preferences and then present that to whoever plans worship. This shows them that while worship isn’t just about them, everyone in the community is valued to the church community and to God.
Eric Mathis believes corporate worship is the most important activity in the Christian church, and he is deeply committed to assisting leaders and congregations exercise wisdom, discernment, and responsibility in their local context. Eric is Assistant Professor of Church Music and Worship Leadership at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music and worship and has recently been named program director of anima: the Forum for Worship and the Arts
I recently visited a congregation having its annual “Youth Sunday.” You know what this is, right? It’s that time once a year when teenagers take responsibility for every job that can possibly be done in worship. At the end of this “Youth Sunday,” the congregation gave their young people a standing ovation. As the applause faded, the minister stepped up and said, “Well done teenagers…you are the future of the church.”
As the congregation stood to applaud again, I sat in my seat with tears welling in my eyes. These young people had just been told a myth, a lie—that they are the future of the church–when they are the church now, in the present.
While I am by nature an optimist, my immediate response to the question, “How do you see the Church engaging youth in worship services?” is “I don’t”. I don’t see the Church engaging youth in worship. At least, I don’t see the church engaging youth well. What I think all congregations need to be asking is: How can our worship practices cultivate the spiritual and creative gifts of teenagers to instill within them a faith that is important enough to extend beyond adolescence?
As director of anima: the Forum for Worship and the Arts at Samford University, I’ve been privileged to walk alongside a number of congregations as they have wrestled with this question and come up with imaginative solutions. Consider one congregation who decided to abandon their annual Youth Sunday in favor of enlisting one teenager to participate in worship leadership every week. Imagine how this formed the ecclesiology of teenagers and all generations as young people took a more active role in worship.
Two months ago I witnessed a child, a teenager, and senior adult read Joel 2 together in worship: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, the old among you will dream dreams, and the young among you will see visions…” What a beautiful image of the body of Christ this simple act demonstrated as these three rehearsed and read this scripture together in worship.
Just last month, I heard about a music minister, youth minister, and senior pastor who recently decided to set aside thirty minutes a week to examine all worship services teenagers participated in. Together, these ministers found one point each week where their liturgical work overlapped for the benefit of young people.
With online resources from anima, I’m working with a congregation to establish a lay academy for worship leadership. This six-week academy will prepare children, teenagers, and adults to participate in all tasks of worship leadership. Imagine the celebration this congregation might have in one year when they can say their worship leadership represents everyone from cradle to the grave.
In perhaps the most moving practice, I learned of another congregation’s youth and family ministries, who partnered to create rites of passage that marked significant milestones in the lives of young people. This congregation prayed for students entering middle school and high school in worship. They partied with students at graduations and birthdays outside worship. They held evening vigil, advocating for restorative justice issues important to their teens.
Why are these tasks important? Because the twenty-first century Church needs to empower young people to cultivate unity and beauty in the church. The Church needs to prompt young people to channel their creative passions into a life of worship that glorifies God and advances the kingdom of God in the world. And, whether through worship or not, the Church needs to ensure the kingdom of God finds a way to flourish beyond this generation into the next.
Jeremy Shoulta is the Pastor of GracePointe Community Church in Mount Washington, Kentucky. He began working with youth as a summer missionary in college before serving as a youth minister for several years in Kentucky and Missouri. Jeremy is the husband of Valarie and the father to Maggie. Jeremy also makes a killer egg sandwich.
Many congregations with a sizable youth group set aside one Sunday a year for a youth-led worship service. The worship on this particular Sunday might take a different form than other weeks – perhaps the service features more contemporary Christian music or short skits or videos in addition to creative scripture readings, prayers and student preaching.
I grew up participating in annual youth worship services like this. I became very excited when the time came to “wow” the adults with a passionate and uber-creative approach to worship. I can’t speak for everyone, but along the way I garnered a few false assumptions about worship. Speciﬁcally:
- Worship leadership is reserved for adults (except for one Sunday a year)
- Youth-led worship is necessarily different from regular worship
- Congregational participation is a passive, secondary part of worship
If youth worship inevitably leads to these conclusions, then we are missing the mark when it comes to engaging youth in worship. I do not think that a youth worship service is the end of the world for the church or for teenagers seeking to grow in the faith. However, there are steps the church can take to help youth mature and engage in worship on a regular basis.
1. Involve youth in worship leadership more than once a year. Our youth are not empty vessels devoid of gifts and talents. Why limit their involvement to a single youth Sunday? Invite youth to sing in the adult choir. Recruit youth to read scripture and teach them to read with enthusiasm and clarity. Train youth to work the sound board and to understand the meticulous details that go into worship planning. Reserve a spot for a teenager on the worship planning committee. These examples show how youth can be given the opportunity to help make worship a success throughout the year. Such involvement will be a blessing to the church body and will increase the youths’ devotion to the church in the long-run.
2. Encourage youth to be creative but not to the detriment of regular worship practices. There is a rhythm of Christian worship that we seek to live into, and scrapping all regular worship practices on youth Sunday jolts everyone out of that sacred rhythm. At best, it widens the gap between youth and older generations. At worst, it creates resentment and a sense of entitlement as youth are given the opportunity to “make worship their own.” Perhaps there is another way. On youth Sunday (or any Sunday for that matter), allow space for youth to lead a time-tested hymn with a guilar/bass/drums arrangement instead of a song they heard on Christian radio. Ask the youth to write a modern-rendition of a Gospel passage and act it out. Or give youth the opportunity lead centering prayer or Lectio as an alternative worship element. Hopefully these suggestions show that the church can engage youth creatively without compromising the integrity of worship.
3. Teach the value of congregational participation. Let’s face it – most youth will not be leading worship on a regular basis (this is true of most adults as well). That does not mean that congregational participation is any less vital or engaging. On the contrary, congregational participation is the essence of Christian worship. Make it clear that worship attendance and congregational engagement is a necessary part of church activity. If youth Sunday is on the horizon, avoid promoting it as the day when youth get to do things “their way.” Instead, work towards creating an experience that invites congregational participation above all else.