There are four levels to youth ministry. One is the congregational level, where young people are integrated into the life of the grown up church in meaningful ways and where the grown up church comes to value youth’s contributions to congregational life. There are lots of ways to do this, some of which work great in one context and poorly in another. For example.
- Youth Officers. Done well, the habit of nominating and electing a youth, typically a high school student, to an adult leadership office in the church is a meaningful way of both sharing governance responsibility with the youngest of the church’s active members, forming them as leaders in concrete ways, but also of expanding teenagers’ pool of trusted adults, women and men who are not related to them and who do not expect things of them like teachers and coaches, but who know their names and express interest in their lives. Done poorly it makes a token of young people and asks them to sit through long meetings where they don’t know what’s going on.
- Mission Trip Fundraisers. These can be oppressive events that feature students pleading with strangers to buy overpriced baked goods. They can also be thoughtful invitations for the church to participate in youth mission work. They can involve students sharing their hopes and their fears about the upcoming trip.
- Adult Education Classes. One of my best experiences in youth ministry was an adult Sunday School class that I taught with two ninth graders. The class focused on a book about teenagers and digital media, and the ninth graders demonstrated and interpreted for the adults how they thought about and used digital media in their own lives. We recreated the SMS conversation they’d had about their Confirmation statements of faith. Last year I proposed an adult class on another book by the same author and nobody came.
- Youth in Worship. Youth need to experience and be seen in the community Lord’s Day worship service. They need to be invited into leadership as Scripture readers, leaders of prayers, and all the other things. Coaching them in this role is another opportunity to expand their pool of trusted adults.
How else do you integrate young people into grown up congregational life?