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Handling teenagers who feel disconnected from the church

At the D6 Conference I met Josh Robertson, a youth pastor in Minnesota, who told me a story that’s probably all too common in youth ministries around the country. Through a story that he shares in the video below, he realized that most of his youth group feels disconnected from the larger church body. They feel like they’re separate from the church, that the youth group does their thing and the adults do their thing and the adults wouldn’t even notice if the youth weren’t there.

Listen to Josh’s story and share in the comments below what advice you have for him in this situation. I know it’s not unique to Josh, but sometimes moving forward with a solution to this kind of disconnect is easier said that done. Often it’s rooted in values and beliefs that are not easily changed. So how should Josh move forward with this? Your advice could be invaluable for others around the country who are experiencing the same thing. Thank you!


Posted on November 2, 2012

  • Russ

    Josh, Tim, & others-
    Great topic. This is a significant challenge in youth ministry. Here are just a few thoughts.
    1-have youth involved in aspects of worship on a regular basis: reading scripture, prayers, helping with music, preparation of the space (if your space has “decorations”), maybe even preaching or giving testimony!
    2-get youth involved in committees/leadership teams so they can have a voice in the life of the church in its decision making.
    3-invite church members to the youth space. Think of it like having a friend: if we always meet at one house and not the other, a kind of incomplete/disconnected feeling develops as there is a level of intimacy shared when people see where you live. One church I attended had a night where they invited senior citizens to the youth gathering, encouraging them to bring old photos and their stories. The youth also shared their stories…and some showed photos from their phones! Ha
    4- spend some time discussing church membership and what it means with the youth. Maybe have them self-identify gifts which can be used for ministry. You could also invite people that serve the church in hidden areas…dig around and see what you find going on in the church.
    5-get involved in the life of the church as a whole if you’re not already. Model what you desire for the youth and for the church by volunteering in other areas of the ministry and mission of the church.
    I’m sure there is more, but this is all I have right now.

  • Steve

    Some ideas from my experience at my current ministry, with wisdom gained from past ministries:

    - If students don’t feel like they are a part of the church, then they are probably not using their gifts and talents within the church. The NT tells us clearly that we all have God-given abilities, and we need to use them to produce fruit. If those aren’t being used, we will not feel connected, wanted, or needed. So, help students figure out their gifts, and then help them to begin using them. Get them involved in serving beyond themselves. This can be within the church or much larger. This helps them understand that the Church is much bigger than just the people who meet at your particular building on a Sunday morning. Service is one of the biggest things the church was called to do. If we are serving, especially in our area of giftedness, we are a living, breathing part of the body of Christ as a whole. When students begin to understand that God truly wants to use them as a part of His Kingdom mindset, they will begin to feel like they are a part of the world-wide Church.

    - Get students out of their own little corner of the building. Use the entire church building instead of secluding them to their own little space. If we believe they are a part of the church, as a whole, then treat them as such. Obviously, this is not to tell you to take over the entire building with youth ministry stuff, but I think you know what I’m getting at. Do not think of your ministry as a silo. Instead, try to integrate it into the entire life of your church. It is not just a baby-sitting group for parents. It is ministry that exists to teach teens about Christ, and help them become the people He has designed them to be… the Church.

  • Mike

    I think the key-word is CREATIVITY!!! Our youth for ex guided the praise & worship, they prepared the coffee with the cookies for “adults”, receiving also some donations for the trip that we did in Europe for Yout Camp. The “adults” organized different activities to help financially. There are a lot of possibility – just listen both sides…

  • Josh Robertson

    Hey guys! Thanks for your responses that you have given to this video. This experience has sparked a lot of good conversation at our church, and we are starting to begin working on making some changes to address the issues discussed in the video. Your ideas and suggestions have been and will continue to be helpful as we work towards changing the culture that is at our church. Keep the ideas coming as you think of them, I appreciate it!

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  • Hep

    This is an all to common problem among any church I’ve worked at. There seems to be a disconnect between generations and leaders are left wondering what true cross-generational ministry looks like. Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this and is is unique to each case. The most common problem I’ve come across is students feeling like adults have their own agenda and adults feeling like they don’t want to bother the teen (the classic “they don’t want to spend time with an old fart like me” line). I think Russ has great points! I also believe students need an invitation to be involved. They are often timid when it comes to the older generation and something as little as the invitation to sit at a table at a potluck can be a catalyst for change.

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