As a church leader, you want everyone in your care to be growing closer to the Lord, day in and day out. That includes the youth in your church.
Sadly, while most churches have plenty of programs aimed at teenagers and younger kids, those programs often remove these young people from the main life of the body. And while there are strengths to that approach, we shouldn’t forget to take advantage of the opportunities we have to help our youth get more engaged with the rest of the congregation.
Here are a few ways to involve teenagers and younger kids in the life of your church.
Empower your youth
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one of the jobs of church leaders—both staff and volunteer—is to minister to kids and teenagers. That’s certainly a big part of it, but there’s also a time to invite the youth to minister alongside the adults.
Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). But don’t miss the reason: “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (v. 12).
God’s people are to be ministers, and there’s no age requirement. So, invite the young people in your church to step up.
Involve them in the Sunday morning service. Include them in your small groups. Tell them you’d love to see them at your weekly prayer meeting. Ask them to consider joining an outreach or two. Many times students don’t get involved because they don’t know they can.
Invest in your youth
Now, of course, many kids are not exactly mature believers. They still have their questions and doubts. Their familiarity with the Bible leaves plenty of room for improvement. And they’re still learning what it means to walk with the Lord.
They need our attention and our care. They need to be shepherded and mentored. But it’s a mistake to think that job can be left to a lone youth pastor and a few young-adult volunteers. Raising up the next generation is a responsibility that should involve everyone in the church.
Years ago, I served as a youth pastor for a mid-size church in California. While I quickly discovered that I’m not exactly cut out for that sort of ministry, I also found that the volunteers who had the best rapport with my kids—and therefore, the most influence—were not the folks I expected. It wasn’t the college students or young adults my high school students wanted to be around; it was the senior citizens I recruited as volunteers.
Our youth need the wisdom of those who’ve walked down the road of life a little bit further, and they need to be challenged by people who have had unique and varied experiences.
Remember: the goal of youth ministry is not just to create a drug-free, promiscuity-free zone; it’s to make disciples. It’s the Great Commission being fulfilled on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings (and every day in between).
Communicate to your youth
Today’s teenagers have grown up with the internet, smartphones, and tablets. They have a closer relationship to screens than any previous generation. It’s not surprising, then, that these young people prefer to communicate differently than their parents or grandparents.
People under the age of 25 generally prefer to communicate via text rather than email. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk in person ever. But it does mean that if you’re planning on sending important information to your church through your weekly or monthly email newsletter, your teens probably won’t read it.
Communication is more than announcements, of course. Teenagers, despite having a reputation for zoning out in front of their phones, are good listeners. Make sure when you’re preaching that you’re also speaking to them. Address them directly. Bring up issues of concern they likely have. Invite them into the conversation. You may be surprised at the dialogue that opens up.
No, really. Communicate to your youth
It can be difficult to know what to say or how to say it when talking with teenagers and kids. Their everyday experience is just so different than ours. But here are a few keys.
- Talk to them, not at them. No one likes to be lectured, including young people. Have a conversation. Offer your ideas and ask them for their own.
- Be authentic. Teenagers can smell a phony a mile away. If you don’t know the answer to some question they have about Scripture or theology, be willing to admit it. They’ll respect you for it, and you’ll have another opportunity to talk when you find the answer.
- Challenge them. Our youth are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for, so don’t coddle or spoon feed them. Ask them to rise up and think about the tough issues, act in faith where they can, and prove their critics wrong. As Paul told Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
Over to you
Many church leaders look at the youth in their church and see a challenge. And rightly so! The emerging generation is unlike any generation that has come before. But they also present a tremendous opportunity for the kingdom. What would your congregation look like if it involved its youth more in the life of the church?