Is it possible to live at home with mom & dad forever? Ten years ago, the answer would be, “Who would want to? Give me my license, and give me my freedom.” Today, though? I would say, “Yes, it is possible.” More and more kids are living at home longer, delaying getting their driver’s license, possibly even delaying going to college. The verdict is in, and adulthood is not all it’s cracked up to be, and teenagers know it! Community college is more popular than ever, and the age you can stay on your parent’s insurance is at an all-time high.
Some students never want to leave the youth group, and others flat-out leave the church when graduating from youth group. So, how do we minister to teenagers who are not ready to move out and move on? How do we prepare them, spiritually, for adulthood when adulthood is moving further and further away? Even if they’re not ready to leave home, how can we make sure they are ready to move on from youth group?
Too often Student Ministry has become a bridge to nowhere instead of a bridge to a more mature faith in Christ. We must prepare them for faith after high school, and we have to make sure that when they graduate high school, they are not graduating the church. And we do this by…
1. Integrating teenagers into the church body today.
Now, of course teenagers in your youth group are a part of your church. BUT, do they feel a part of your church? That is the key question. We can tell them all day every day that they are a part of the church, but if their reality is otherwise, none of that matters. It’s kind of like the shark attack scene in “Couple’s Retreat,” where Vince Vaughn claims he was attacked by a shark, and everyone doubts him. It’s my favorite line of the movie…”I know my own truth!” Obviously, this statement is paradoxical on many levels, but nonetheless, teenagers know their own truth.
How can a student in your youth ministry feel a part of the church when they are always separated from the church? While I completely agree that teenagers need their community, sometimes we sacrifice the Church body for the sake of community. We must realize the difference between community and group isolation.
Our student ministry team has found that the best way for teenagers to feel a part of the church is to completely integrate them into our weekend services. No longer do we have students in one building and the rest of our church in another. No longer do new families walk in and not see any teenagers around. No longer do students walk into a church worship service for the first time after graduation. Our teenagers are fully engaged into the life of our church, and it is great seeing middle school & high school students sitting in the front of the worship center each week leading the way in worship!
I definitely believe that teens need their community, and we give that to them on Sunday & Wednesday nights, but not at the expense of the overall Church body.
2. Empowering teenagers to be the NOW generation instead of the next generation.
Teenagers are capable. That’s not the problem. The question becomes are they willing? Many adults in the church don’t believe that teenagers are willing OR capable. But that’s bologna (or baloney). The problem is they have not been given the opportunity to be willing or capable! Teenagers, especially high school students, can do nearly anything an adult can do, but the church often questions that, and therefore never opening the door for them to serve or to contribute, hiding behind the mantra of teens being the NEXT generation.
If we always say they’re next, then they’re never now.
What integrating teens into the weekend church worship experience does, is it immediately opens the door for them to have more serving responsibilities.
Since integrating our teens on the weekends, we see students every single week, greeting people, running lights, camera and video, passing communion and offering, leading and teaching in Children’s ministry, leading as part of our worship teams, and even being prayer partners. We never have a student takeover weekend, because it would look exactly the same as all the other weekends! Plus this frees up the youth pastor to interact with parents, new families, and the rest of the congregation every weekend. Student Ministry in your church becomes MORE visible, not less visible.
And now when students graduate high school, they still have a sense of belonging in THEIR church. They are still serving and they are still coming to weekend worship!
When given the opportunity and the vision, teenagers are willing & capable! Student Pastors must believe that, but more importantly, Church Leaders, Senior Pastors, and Executive Pastors must believe that. When the entire church buys in, the teenagers are the ones who win.
Are we worried about what our student ministry looks like today, or what the Church will look like tomorrow?
I would love to know…How are you making teens feel like they have ownership in your church? What are some ways we can better pass the baton of ministry to them before they leave us?