I asked them to answer three questions:
1.) What in your life has made you, you?
2.) Why did you choose to join (or not join in one case) the church?
3.) What is God to you?
One kid responded in a way that sums up everything this blog is about.
With hesitation, she said this:
"Sports and music are what make me, me.
Sports have taught me teamwork.
Music has taught me how to express myself."
Then she paused for 30 seconds and said, as if realizing for the very first time,
"And I guess church too.
I never thought about it this way before, but
Church is where I do both.
Church is where I get to practice both teamwork and expressing myself."
Have truer words about church ever been spoken?
Church is where we practice teamwork.
It's where we figure out what it means to live together in Christian Community.
And Church is where we learn to express ourselves.
It's where we learn to speak our mind and to discover the language of our faith.
This has become my new mission statement,
and has basically been my guiding principle for my Youth Ministry based on my own experience of church growing up.
My home church did an unbelievably job at two things:
1.) It offered me sincere leadership roles in the church. Not the pat-you-on-the-head-because-you're-an-adorable-youth-pretending-to-help kind of leadership. I did things like serve on the Senior Minister Search Committee as high schooler.
2.) It gave me opportunities to bring my passions and talents into the life of the church. We put on plays and musicals. We led worship. We sang. We went canoeing. We did things that I already loved to do.
I would say that this, above all else, is the mark of a successful Youth Group.
It's not the attendance numbers. It's not the number of deep philosophical conversations you have.
Those will be natural by-products of any program that offers kids sincere leadership roles and the opportunity to show off their passions and skills.
That's why kids will often choose sports instead. Sports programs are the epitome of combining leadership with passion and skill. We have to recapture that sense of accomplishment.
There's nothing I can't stand more than that moment when you're in a committee meeting and someone suggests an idea for a "great" program, and then people realize that it takes work and it's going to be hard to get adults to do that work, and so someone says, "What if we got some high schoolers to do it?"
High Schoolers are not your work horses. They are members of the congregation, who, more than anyone, need to be offered tasks that feel like an honor, not jobs that no one else wanted. They need to be our Lay Readers, not our dish washers. They need to be our musicians, not our vacuumers. They need programming specifically designed for them, not rejected adult programming.
I used to think that teens were leaving the church because they had trouble with the faith, that our biggest problem as church was that we weren't properly teaching the kids about our theology and history. The more and more I work with teens, the more I see that the real problem is that they lack meaningful experiences of church. Why would they want to discuss important matters in a place which matters nothing to them?
So give them a reason to care by making church care about them. Give them a chance to shine.
Sports win because they give kids a chance to shine. There are trophy ceremonies. There are MVP awards. There are Captains given the level of respect usually reserved for adult leaders. Even for the kids who aren't the best, there are awards for Coach's Choice, Player's Choice, Most Improved. The local paper writes stories about the high school teams. They wear their jerseys around school. They dress up for game day. There are all of these opportunities in the sports world for our kids to be publicly celebrated for doing what they loved to do.
Compare that to some churches that stick their Youth Groups in a dank corner of the church, hire a part-time intern and call it a day.
It is my fervent belief that everyone needs to experience a standing ovation at least once in their lives. And Church can be the place that does that for both our young people and our adults. It's an easy 3-step process:
1.) Find out what your kids love to do for fun.
2.) Do that.
3.) Make sure the whole church knows about it.
Let your kids shine. Make it known that church cares about them and they in turn will care about church. Make it known that church is a place where they matter and church in turn will matter to them.
You also have to make sure church is a place that matters. But that's for a later post…