Youth Faith Formation Happens in Two Directions

Congregation-based youth ministry teaches young people how to participate in rituals of faith. A lot of this teaching is implicit, a truth that hit me in the first church I served as a watched a five year old recite the Lord’s Prayer in worship standing next to her mother. Nobody ever taught it to her; she heard it week after week and gradually learned how to participate.

At the same time, a community of teenagers will develop, sometimes deliberately and sometimes spontaneously, its own treasured habits. From inside jokes to last-night-of-the-mission-trip rituals, these can be powerful elements of youth faith formation.

I’ve seen two things happen on this front that are troubling. 1) youth don’t ever learn the congregation’s grown up habits of discipleship because they don’t spend enough time in the company of the congregation’s grown ups, or 2) youth ministry develops its own rituals that adults have no part in.

There really is no remedy for the first besides leaving time or intentionally programming it for students to be in the adult spaces of congregational life where the grown-up habits are happening. Worship, obviously, but also meetings and coffee hour, help here.

For the second, the adults accompanying youth in ministry, staff and volunteers, can incorporate the rituals that are meaningful to them into the grown up spaces of congregational life where youth may not actually be present. The youth leader at that church I mentioned above used to check in with students each week with what she called “blesses and stresses” from their week. I saw her do it one week, and the next session meeting started the same way.

Youth faith formation happens as teens’ are formed by a congregation and as their life in community forms the church in turn.

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