I love it that more and more churches are valuing students enough to be intentional about integrating them into the larger church body, realizing that a youth ministry in isolation can have some very detrimental effects. Here’s a few ideas I have for integrating teenagers into the church body and some thoughts on each.
1. Serve in the church service
So far, this seems to be the main extent of “integration,” and it is definitely a good start, but too often we pat ourselves on the back and say, “Hey, kids are serving in the worship band, greeting at the doors, and running the sound system! They’re integrated!”
A few important questions:
- Does this really make teenagers feel like they have an equal stake in the church along with the adults?
- Do some teens feel like they’re mostly serving the adults in “their” space?
- Does it make the kids who aren’t serving feel like the others are “in” but they’re still “out?” (This perception doesn’t seem to be the case as much for adults who aren’t serving. What’s the difference?)
- Does this really lead to a comprehensive perception among all teenagers that they’re an equal part in the worship experience?
Maybe some of your churches can answer positively to some or all of these questions, and that’s great! I’d encourage you to ask some of the students themselves, too, and hear what they say. Going to the source is always a good idea.
2. Invite teenagers to youth leader meetings
Hopefully our youth ministries are moving toward “youth doing ministry” more than “us doing ministry to youth.” If that’s the case, we need to include teenagers who are serving in our trainings, decisions, and plans. The approach for getting teens involved in ministry should not be adults who determine what the ministry does and then tries to get teens to do it. Instead, invite teens into the process of shaping the ministry from the very beginning. That’s where true ownership really begins.
3. Encourage your Sr. Pastor to speak to them
Often we say, “We want to integrate teenagers into our worship experience,” but then never talk to them once they’re there. Encourage your Senior Pastor to take a moment in each of his messages to speak directly to the teenagers and other oft-overlooked demographics, like young singles and newly married.
Although it might be a bit outside your pastor’s comfort zone, he could also use illustrations and examples that connect with those age groups specifically. In fact, he could teach an entire sermons series that is directly aimed at teenagers! After all, there’s probably been enough aimed at the adults lately. Let’s even it out a bit.
To take this a bit further, have your senior pastor come engage with kids at youth group, too. It’s easy to say we want teenagers to join the adults, but let’s make an effort to “cross pollinate” both directions. The influence your senior pastor can have on your teenagers is often greatly underestimated. After all, he is their pastor, too, not just the “adults’ pastor.” If he joins them in their group and engages with them there, maybe the invitation to join the adults in “their turf” on Sundays feels a bit more genuine.
4. Invite teens to give input into the sermon
Some pastors meet with their staff every week to review the upcoming messages. They collectively give input, share creative ideas, point out gaps, and poke holes in the content so it’s a solid presentation and message when it’s delivered. It would be great to invite some teenagers into that process each week, as well.
Although it’s probably difficult to do that on another evening of the week when teens are not in school, you could at least grab some home schooled kids and ask them to be a part of the weekly brainstorming meeting during the day. They can definitely give input that will help your pastor craft the message for their demographic in ways none of us can.
And I guarantee that those kids will be listening intently when the message is delivered. They will feel like they have a huge stake in what’s being presented because their influence was heard and respected. They’ll retain a lot of what’s taught, if not all of it!
5. Include teens into small groups with adults
A friend of mine who’s a pastor at another church in my town shares a story about their intergenerational small groups. They didn’t necessarily want the small groups to be intergenerational, but because there wasn’t anything else for their children during that time and because the kids were too young to leave at home, they brought them along to their home groups and included them in the discussions.
While he thought the discussions might become a bit juvenile for the adults, he says it actually became very valuable for them. Their young kids speak up and challenge them on so many levels. They have insights and questions they never considered.
One evening they were taking about Good Samaritan and his 8 year old son said, “So, why do we just sit here? We need to go out and help people.” The parents sat there for a second, feeling a bit jarred from the comfort zone of the couches, and had to admit that he was right. So in the weeks that followed, the small group took their kids out to serve in the community in place of their normal meeting time. As a result, the families grew together spiritually and bonded in ways that never would have happened had they been split up into age appropriate groups.
6. Invite teenagers into church board meetings
I suggested this to one church and a deacon said, “No way! I would be embarrassed for my teenager to see what happens in there.” All the more reason to get your act together and have teenagers in there!
Seriously, don’t dimiss this one too quickly. I’m not saying they have to be voting members of the church board, but they can certainly give valuable input and perspectives in an advisory role. Don’t discount this aspect of church as for adults only or, “Teens wouldn’t be interested in this kind of stuff.” Some are! Find a couple solid and spiritually mature teenagers and invite them to be a part of the church’s bigger picture decisions and meetings. Teach them how a church budget works, how your church’s values play out in your decision making process, how church conflicts are resolved, and more.
The key isn’t just to integrate teens into areas that are comfortable and easy for us, but to plug them into every aspect of the church and form the church’s plans around them as much as anyone else. Give them the opportunity to have the same stake in your church that the adults have. Hold them to a higher standard and expect them to step up to it. Many of them will.
Posted on November 15, 2011