On Engaging Quieter Young People in Worship Ministry
We involve a few of our high schoolers in worship, especially those with musical gifts. What ideas do you have for engaging other young people?
There are many visible roles related to worship other than music where young people can thrive: running the sound system, reading Scripture, receiving the offering, joining a dance ministry, ushering, or participating in a choral reading or dramatic reenactment of a Scripture text. In the context of warm encouragement and active mentorship, participation can help high school (and younger!) youth grow in their faith and discern gifts they have for future ministry. It can also deepen their engagement in worship on the Sundays in which they are not in one of these visible roles and help them develop meaningful relationships with others in the congregation. The congregation can also be deeply blessed and encouraged by young people using their gifts in these ways.
And yet, even beyond this, there often are young people who are not comfortable being in designated roles like these but who have significant insights to offer.
There are any number of ways of drawing on these other gifts.
What if . . .
- . . . your pastor met with a group of young people a week or two before a given sermon to discuss the preaching text? The preacher could ask them what part of the text strikes them as especially compelling and which parts raise questions or concerns. Ask them to think of other texts related to the preaching text and what difference they see the text making in their lives. Ask them to jot down some of their thoughts, too, so the insights of even the quietest kids can be gleaned. Even walk with them through a few of the steps in shaping a sermon—leaving plenty of time after the discussion for that sermon to develop in response to what they say. The potential result? The preacher is likely to be prompted with helpful insights, cautions, and questions. The young people involved in the conversation are likely to listen to that sermon more attentively—a habit that may well carry over to other sermons. And it might be that the quietest kid in the room will find herself quoted with affirmation (and permission!) during the sermon, to the blessing of the entire congregation.
- . . . the very same thing happened in preparation for the prayers of the people? A prayer leader could work with a group of young people to identify one to three global concerns to include in prayer, then do the same for broad cultural concerns, neighborhood concerns, and congregational concerns. It may be that the quietest kid in the room will come up with an especially thoughtful idea: remembering to pray for those who are bullied at school, for those who experience profound loneliness, for countries in the world facing polarizing elections or political corruption, or for the wisdom we all need to guide our social media use. When led with openness and wisdom, these kinds of discussions can also help all involved in their personal prayer lives and in their capacity to participate in public prayer and appreciate its nature and beauty.
- . . . you formed a small group of young people or an intergenerational group to reflect on your congregation’s song diet? This kind of conversation needs to be well led so that it doesn’t become only a discussion of personal stylistic preferences. Assemble a list of Christmas or Easter or Pentecost songs that your congregation has sung over the past several years as well as the materials your worship team uses to select songs (for example, a collection of hymnals, songbooks, or websites). Ask your team to put together a short list of which well-loved and brand-new songs could be especially strong in your context for a particular upcoming sermon. The very design of the conversation could reinforce how important it is to sing both familiar and new music, both songs of praise and thanks but also lament and confession. A session like this can also teach participants about criteria for music in worship that will deepen the engagement in worship of everyone involved.
- . . . you organized a group to help find or produce images and photographs needed for bulletin covers or presentation slides? One congregation asked young people to take photographs of places in their community where they perceive God at work. The images were shared before the congregational prayer and gave the congregation new reasons to thank and praise God and new places to pray about and for. Both the photographers and the congregation learned to look for God’s unfolding redemption in the world around them.
Each of these ideas promises to engage kids who may never be up front. Each promises to be an occasion for a lot of learning—both for the young people involved and for the pastors, musicians, and other leaders who participate. None of these approaches should unwittingly communicate, “Well, this is really all about you and your preferences.” They should rather say, “Your insight and wisdom strengthens us.”
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