A while back, I blogged about a problem that is all too common in youth ministry. I talked about youth being disconnected from the larger church and only being connected to the youth ministry. We see the results that flow from this. Teens and young adults that leave the church after graduation because they don’t fit in. I don’t want to just complain, so here are some practical ideas to help the transition.
Most churches are geared toward middle aged women. When you think about your typical service, would it appeal to most guys? Would it appeal to most young adults? Things like the music, the style, the furnishings, the graphics, & the sermons all either engage an age group, or frustrate an age group. Churches should constantly reach up to engage older members, and should constantly reach down to engage younger members. When we get set in our ways, we exclude many who are not in our “target” audience. You may say that you don’t have a target audience and that you are trying to reach all age groups. Really analyze and look at what you are doing, it is almost impossible to be “all things to all people”, without having a plan on how to accomplish it. We must be intentional about becoming comfortably “uncomfortable” in reaching outside our normal services. Think about ways to reach out to the older people in your congregation and in your community to make them feel challenged and welcome. Think about ways to do the same to the younger people in your church. And constantly communicate the fact that your church is committed to impacting people of all ages. This also leads to my belief that …
Youth (teens) should be in the main service with their friends and families. If we truly believe in the importance of intergenerational ministry, then the youth need to be involved in the larger church. When we create a service just for teens, then you create another church within a church that reinforces the fact that our adult services are not relevant to youth. I had never thought about this until I attended a youth workers seminar by Phil Newberry, the Youth Pastor for Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. He talked about the times he had been asked to establish a youth service to open up space in their main service. He refused based on the principle that the youth needed to worship with their families. The cynic in me wanted to say that youth sit with their friends, not their families. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with him. Even if you don’t sit together, you experienced the same service. It gives parents a chance to open a discussion with their teens about what they have heard and learned.
And finally, if you say that church cannot reach more than one age group effectively, then you should look to Disney & Pixar for inspiration. They have managed to appeal to children, teens, adults, and senior citizens by making movies that connect and engage people of all ages. It requires us to put aside our own preferences, and think about the best way to reach and impact our community. That is what a “missional” church is all about.
This is getting long, so I will share more thoughts later