What Can We Do?
Four years ago when I started in my position as youth minister at my current church, I was taken aback by the Sunday worship schedule.
During one of the worship services, the church offered kids’ church as well as youth Sunday school. So, for the 9:30 hour, I’d begin by meeting teens in the main church building. As service started, we would cross the parking lot to the youth room where we’d spend time together having a lesson and chatting. Most weeks we would be lucky to make it back to the service in time to participate in weekly communion.
Was this the best way to be helping teens keep their faith once they left high school and this church?
As an adult, I felt isolated from the church body. I grew up in a church where Sunday school took place the hour before worship. Adults and kids, alike, would attend their respective classes only to gather for worship after. To say the least, this new way of worshipping took some getting used to.
What Are We Missing?
At this point, I was deep into my training with the Youth Ministry Institute – reading Sticky Faith by Kara Powell – and I was struck by the idea that teens could get so much more out of their church experience by actually being a part of the church! I mean, hadn’t that been what I’d experienced myself?
As a result of talking with students, parents, and leadership, we did away with our youth Sunday school class.
As a youth minister, I want the teens with whom I work to equally value their time in worship.
I want them to experience the benefits of being part of the corporate body of worship. Sam Halverson, a United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia Conference, says in his book One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church, “Statistics tell us that people whose teenage church experiences were limited to youth rooms and youth worship, lock-ins, and mission trips, fundraisers and spiritual retreats, and who never got to know the whole church in the form of corporate worship, nursery and music ministries, fellowship dinners and planning meetings – the time spent together as one body – will grow up continually searching for a church that is like their youth ministry experience. They won’t know what to look for in a church; they won’t have a faith that is nurtured by the stories and the lives of the whole body of Christ. Youth need to hear the stories, to be part of the body, to recognize how they fit into the community.”
Equip Teens To Keep Their Faith Early On
How should we be helping teens keep their faith after high school? Well, according to Powell and Halverson, we first allow them to be a part of the corporate church community. We give them opportunities to serve in leadership within the church and we invite them to attend worship – rather than separating them from the flock.
If we are called to be part of Christ’s body, that body should include every age group imaginable. And while it is not customary to allow young children to be part of committees, children should be equally considered full participants in worship. We demonstrate this value when we empower kids with an active role in weekly worship experiences.
As teens grow to be integrated members of Christ’s body, the Church, they will be better equipped as young adults to keep their faith after they leave high school and find their way within other bodies of worship.
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Partner with Teens as they Prepare to Leave High School
Making our worship and leadership opportunities intergenerational doesn’t diminish the value of offering youth gatherings. It is within the youth group setting that teens can learn valuable social skills in preparing to enter college. It is within the youth ministry that teens learn to be accountable for their faith. There, they begin to learn what it means to practice their faith independently of their peers.
As teens prepare to graduate, it is my hope that they feel integrated into the greater church family. The results may be that they also desire to continue a lifetime of growth and keep their faith after high school.
As youth ministers we can help connect our teens to campus ministries across the country, helping teens make connections early. Had I had a similar influence in my life as I started college, maybe I would not have crumbled under my crippling social anxiety when trying to attend the Wesley Foundation for the first time at the University of Kentucky. I wish I’d had a youth minister help me reach out to the campus ministry before I graduated to make a connection. Instead, I found myself attending my home church every weekend as a freshman. Why? Because it was the place I knew I belonged and felt a part of.
What Else Can We Do To Be Helping Teens Keep Their Faith After High School?
We can provide our teens with resources for study – encouraging them to dive deeper into their study of Scripture. The ministry can dive into group Bible studies, challenging them to think for themselves about what they believe. We can provide them with opportunities to serve- in the church, the community, and the world. If they go away to school, we can help them find churches nearby with thriving young adult ministries. Most importantly, we can pray for them now as they take steps toward graduation and adulthood.
Sarah Taylor has been the youth director at Gulf Cove United Methodist Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, since 2017. She has a Master’s Degree in Youth Ministry from Wesley Seminary as well as a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She loves books and writing, has a borderline obsession with Harry Potter and Gilmore Girls, and loves Cherry Pepsi. She lives in North Port, Florida, with her 14-year-old cat, Milo.