How to make our teens thrive in church? You may want to pay attention to church culture and attitudes that tend to undermine faith development in our teens, and what we can do about that.
It has been many years since the Lord inspired and led me and my team to create what we now refer to as ‘Teen Ministries’. The question can be asked, has the introduction of Teen Ministries done anything to value, involve and keep our teenagers actively and meaningfully engaged in the life of our church community?
There is an ongoing challenge of how to involve teenagers in the life and ministry of our church.
The philosophy which motivated and guided us back then, seems to have been lost along the way. That philosophy was simply this: “Meet them where they are, and journey with them to where we believe that they could be” under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.” The focus seemed to be on pushing the teens toward spirituality, while disregarding the journey that they were travelling on.
But the church has not harnessed and capitalised this approach because it seems they felt it was too risky. It pushed the boundary too far beyond their comfort zone. The result is that ministry has been stagnated and possibly has lost its cutting edge and relevance to teenagers.
The challenge we face is not new but does require a new approach and outlook. The church body and leadership have to be willing to listen to teenagers, to accommodate their views and perspectives on how they could be incorporated in the life of the church at large, and how they would like to see things done — which is risky to the church at large!
The church leadership must dialogue with our teens, to ascertain how they would like to see their involvement in the life and mission of the church. But too often we say that we are listening, when in actual fact, we have our own agenda that we impose upon the way the ministry is done for them.
We as the adult church have to be willing to take the risk with them. It is unreasonable that we should expect them to ‘behave themselves’ and conform to the way we want them to be, and what we would allow them to be involved in. Our teens need space to be allowed to experiment, to explore and try new things, like the pioneers of our church did since its birth and inception.
In the old days, when I was a teenager, there was something we called ‘youth club’. I am not proposing that we bring back youth club; not that this reintroduction would be a bad thing, for it wasn’t only the events of the club that made the difference for me and my peers. It was the fact of the older folks rallying around us, playing table tennis, slamming those domino cards on the table, with both old and young fellowshipping together. Those times spent together affirmed that we were valuable to the church family. It said that they wanted us around. This is the message that we need to ‘show and tell’ the teens of our churches!
I am a firm believer in ‘socials to save’. Let there be more social events as part of the church programmes. Let there be outings, which the teens can be involved in planning and executing. Let there be socials with a spiritual emphasis. Let them see that everything we do with them has a bias toward them becoming increasingly involved in the life of our church communities, while nurturing them in their faith journey.
To the church leadership, I want to challenge you to dare to be different in shaping our local church ministry toward becoming more teen-oriented; toward inclusion of those precious teenagers and not to plan and do everything in the church programmes around the older folks and adults. Dare to involve the teens in planning meaningful ministries that reflect the progressive mindset so needed to show young people that they are more valuable as the ones for whom Christ died, and thus more important than the maintenance of church programmes, departments, buildings and all the paraphernalia that props up the church.
Our model of youth ministry in now so dated! The model we have, which other churches have used for generations, is now a model of the past. Those churches have moved on. They have allowed the young people to influence and shape the way ministry is done for teenagers. We should become more ministry focused, with more activities that express more compassion for others and not just coming to church afternoon services and programmes that are so lacking in creativity and are therefore ineffective at capturing and holding the interests of our young people, teenagers and children.
I have heard it said that a definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’ If that is true, then our church is in desperate need of some creative investment which will break the mould of habits, traditions and rituals, to produce different results that will catapult the church into the paradigm shift that will see the young people and teenagers galvanised into a life that will highlight the church in the public’s eyes.
COVID-19 and the lockdown afforded us such an opportunity. In my last church (Edmonton) the Pathfinder leader and his team pooled the Pathfinders together to do some meaningful ministry to the folks of our community. They handed out what became known as ‘bags of blessings’, containing various items of food and other useful products. This was one way of meaningfully involving the teenagers in doing something of benefit to the community around the church.
Why not try something new; think outside the box and see the power of the Holy Spirit at work, as a passionate group of young people pool their energies together for the benefit of people for whom Christ died; for whom He will be returning soon – His faithful church families – to bring them home.