The older man slowly walked down the center aisle of the small traditional church with his wife’s frail hand holding his. He is roughly 70 years old and very proud of his historical Methodist church that they have been attending for more than 52 years now. As he and his wife take a seat two thirds of the way up on the right hand side where they sit every week, he notices the young boy siting in the chair by the pastor at the side of the platform. He has never seen kids on that stage before, except for when the church holds their annual children’s program around Christmas. He guesses the boy is 13-14 since he looks about the same age as his youngest grandson.
Just a few minutes into a service the young man walked over to the podium and began reading the morning scripture verses. The older man leaned over to his wife and whispered, “what happened to Frank our normal liturgist? Shouldn’t this boy be watching the service with his parents like the other teens?” Then he said it; “kids don’t belong on the stage. They haven’t earned the right to lead us.” Whoomp, there it is! For the two of you from my church that found this article, please don’t try to guess who I am talking about. This is a fictional character that I just made up. Really! I don’t even attend our traditional service where I have pictured this happening.
The problem is that this is the camp where way too many adults in the American church fall. This is what went on in the church they grew up in. Megachurch Pastor Perry Noble says that historically in the church we have taught kids from grades one to twelve that church is boring. The sooner we can get our kids in ministry, the sooner we get them to value a relationship with Christ. The following example was the church I was brought up in. Church was something we did three times a week because my parents made my sister and I go. Over time I began to feel that Christianity was just about the rules. You know, like being on Santa’s naughty or nice list. Because of this mindset, I left the church almost completely for about eight years after high school. I am so thankful that God didn’t zap me to heaven during that time! My beautiful and intelligent wife, Cheryl, (just in case she reads this) saved me by re-introducing me to Jesus when we married. That’s when I discovered Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. I wish someone would have told me about the grace of God when I was a kid.
Teens are not the future of the church instead they are the church now. I remember an internship I did in college at the number one rated country music station in Indianapolis; WFMS. I did not get paid, however I learned some very important lessons about sales that still help me in my job today. One of the sales representatives I rode along with had a client tell her she really can’t advertise with a country station. “Sorry,” the customer said, “I just can’t stand country music.” The representative thoughtfully replied, “I understand your feelings about country music, but it does not matter what you think about country music, what matters is the key demographics for your store listen to our station.” Light bulb! What I mean by this is that we adults need to realize if we are going to reach and engage a younger generation into our church, we need to be willing to change the concept of church that we grew up with.
Now that we see there might be a problem at our church with youth involvement, we need to figure out a strategy for getting them involved. I am not talking about the type of service where your committee tells the youth pastor they could use the kids help with the church rummage sale to take all of the items out of the storage barn and cleaning them up to be sold. As the husband to our church youth pastor, I have heard countless stories of people wanting to use our youth group as some sort of hired volunteers to do their committee’s dirty work instead of engaging them for something more meaningful.
Here are 7 necessary steps for involving youth into your service:
- Get buy-in from the lead pastor and key leaders. Before we can think about making a sustainable program to involve the youth in service, there must be mutual agreement with the lead pastor along with the leadership team at your church.
- The youth and lead pastor will communicate and coordinate a plan. How will this be carried on year after year? Who will need to be involved in the process? Why will the youth want to get involved? Where can they help out? What are the options for involvement?
- The pastor communicates the plan to the congregation regularly. I strongly believe there needs to be clear communication from the leader of the church, the head pastor, so the entire church can understand and buy into the new idea.
- Ask committee and church program leaders to encourage youth involvement. The more groups within the church that truly buy into the youth volunteer movement, the more at ease the youth will feel. They will feel welcome in their service.
- Once youth are involved in serving, have at least one person in that group become a mentor to them. Think about your freshman year at school. Wasn’t it awesome when an upperclassman befriended you and helped you feel welcome with all of your uneasiness? This is of course hypothetical, but in high school I would often rejoice on the days when my books were not being pushed out of my hands by a senior. We will just assume your most senior group member will not purposely give the new youth member a swirly before your meeting or activity. Make them feel welcome, and then teach them the ropes with a smile.
- Evaluate the process. Find a way that works for your church to regularly (at least bi-yearly) get the organizers of the youth involvement program (YIP) to determine if the youth are easily involved and enjoying their service..
- Sustain commitment. Do not let this become a program that so many churches start, but because of a lack of commitment or sincerity it folds in just a few years. This should become a living part of your vision to allow your youth to understand that Jesus can and will use them their entire life.
Have you looked closely how Jesus treated children he encountered in his ministry? He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9: 36, 37 NIV. Jesus recognized that children are crucial in the plans of his kingdom. They are very impressionable, yet can be incredibly instrumental in the growth of our church. No matter what your role is in your church, you have the choice in what you are going to do with this information. Are you going to let it go as a nice article that made some good points, or are you going to take this to your pastor and leadership team to develop a strategy that develops children and youth into the heart of your service? It’s your call.
Kyle Adamson is a member of Center UMC in Indianapolis and seminary student at Indiana Wesleyan University.