Worship is one of the few areas where the entire church comes together. It is a beautiful thing. This month we are focusing on youth and worship. Today we kick it off with……..
“What are some things you do to help your youth connect during worship?”
Josh Plant has recently transitioned to a job in the sunshine state! He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for undergrad and then got his M. Div. at Truett Seminary. He is married to Camille and enjoys the Texas Longhorns, Netflix, and Chick-fil-a. He isn’t cool enough to have any pets…yet.
When I was four years old I walked up on stage, sat down next to my grandfather, and started playing the harmonica with the church band. Since that moment I have been involved in the leadership of church worship in some way pretty much every Sunday. That’s actually pretty strange when I think about it, though, because most people are not given that opportunity. Instead of being allowed to lead in worship, most of our students pass the time in our sanctuaries playing games on their phone or sending awkward Snapchats to each other and underestimating the observational skills of the adults in the room. How, then, do we discourage that and help them connect in a meaningful way during worship? Here are a few things that I’ve done to help our students connect:
- Put them on the platform– This seems too simplistic, but sometimes simple is best. If my peers are on stage and leading things, it sends the signal that they care about something going on and I, as their peer, could possibly be moved by what’s happening too. It helps to break down any preconceived ideas they may have about worship not being relevant to them based solely on their age. We can accomplish this through dramas, singing, responsive readings, question and answer sessions, and so much more.
- Refer to sermons, songs, or events from Sunday’s worship in student worship times or small groups– This sends the message that we should be paying attention to these things. It reminds them that what you are expecting from them is something you also expect from yourself.
- Encourage them to be note-takers – Truthfully, this can be one of your better strategies. Note-taking helps us remember things and keeps us engaged. It also sets a visual example to other students to do the same.
- Encourage families to quiz each other on the sermon– I once had a family take a sabbatical from our church for an entire spring semester; the last semester of their son’s high school career. All of his friends went to another church and, though he had grown up in our church and loved it and me, he felt his faith was best served by being around Christian friends that were with him at school AND at church. How could I argue with that level of awareness? Here’s the point: his parents decided that they needed to be with their son every Sunday because they felt is was important for them to hear the same sermon and discuss worship together over Sunday lunch just like they always had. Their level of interest rubbed off on their son and let him know it was worth the price of paying attention.
- Utilize media – I’m speaking more about student worship here, but the same holds true for Sunday morning worship. Utilize things like videos, real time poll taking, and things of that nature. Not only does it look cool, but it gives people things to do. In an age where our attention spans are shorter than ever, this allows students to connect in a meaningful way and breaks up the monotony of listening to someone drone on for thirty or forty minutes. I mean, think about the last place you were, outside of church, that you were totally fine with sitting and listening to another human being lecture for forty minutes. Were you totally engaged the whole time or did you pull out your phone for a bit? Would some kind of media help with that problem?
- Utilize groups– This is certainly more for a student worship gathering because it’s a little more informal. I like to break students up into group of three or four and ask questions. I generally give them a minute or two to discuss in groups and then ask someone from each group to share what some of their answers were. They’re engaged because they get to talk and you celebrate what they have to say. That’s a win.
- Utilize anonymous questions– Some of you may have heard of Ask.fm a few years ago. If you are unfamiliar with it, the basic idea was that you had a profile and people could anonymously ask you questions about things. This led to a lot of bullying so I don’t really recommend it, but we did try to utilize something like it in worship. We wanted a way students could ask honest questions about the message without the fear of being judged. So we set up a system using a text service where students could do exactly that…and it was awesome. They were much more engaged.
- Challenge them when they are not engaged – The confrontational side of me often has to be locked away so that I don’t speak too quickly or in a way that may not be helpful. That being said, we as spiritual leaders for our students have the right and the responsibility to challenge students who are obviously playing a game on their phone or napping throughout worship. No, it is not fun and they may be annoyed by your alleged intrusion, but it is what we have to do sometimes.
Obviously, these ideas are not silver bullets and they may or may not work in your particular context. I do hope they are helpful in some way, though, and, if nothing else, they inspire you to even better ideas! If you come up with some great ideas of your own, would you email me and let me know? I would love to borrow them!