Empowering Youth to Lead Worship
Here’s what we did to encourage more youth involvement in the worship life of our church.
As the Director of Youth and Family Ministries in a small Lutheran church in Southern California, I struggled with the challenge of getting youth involved in worship. Fun activities and events piqued the kids’ interest and brought new people into the youth group, but that didn’t translate over to participation in church. In fact, the faithful youth group participants were unexcited about “church” and were often absent on Sunday mornings. The youth were encouraged to help as acolytes, ushers, and occasionally readers. This was helpful but limited. As far as I could tell, the faith formation of our youth was being severely stunted because their limited involvement was not spiritually significant. I could tell the kids were itching to dive deep, not just get their feet wet.
Thanks to the leadership of a dynamic pastor, the church had a tradition of the youth leading worship every time there was a 5th Sunday in a month, but this had not been fully practiced for some time. To make a long story short, we tackled this tradition with gusto! We encouraged and empowered the youth to lead worship. Soon they were leading nearly the entire service and they loved it!
Empowering youth to lead worship led to four key benefits.
ENGAGEMENT: It involved the youth in the whole life of the church. Suddenly there were kids in church who had never been there before. They became aware of the entire ministry of the church, not just the youth ministry program. They discovered that doing the “church thing” wasn’t so bad after all, in fact it was fun! Once they were allowed to lead, they were more willing to follow too.
EVANGELISM: It gave the youth a way to share their faith with their friends. For many young people, it is difficult to openly share their faith, but it is easier if youth have a hand in creating their own spiritual space and are allowed to do creative, fun things that relate to their lives and friends.
COMMUNITY: It unified the youth group with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. After a successful youth Sunday service, the kids received praise and approval from the entire congregation. The younger children looked up to them as role models, even as heroes, after seeing them pull off a fun worship service. They felt part of the greater community.
CONNECTION: It created a connection between the young and old in the congregation. Suddenly the youth weren’t seen as just a bunch of crazy kids who ran around the church breaking things on Sunday nights. Suddenly they were “our youth” who shared their faith stories, led worship music, performed dramas, and led prayers for the entire congregation. A connection was made from the very young to the very old, and our youth were at the center of it.
If you are satisfied with the youth involvement in your congregation then blessings to you. If the idea of doing a “Youth Sunday” sounds interesting to you then read on.
Here’s what we did…
Seven Steps to a Successful Youth Sunday Service
START WITH SCRIPTURE: We looked at where the Sunday fell in the church year and read the scripture texts assigned to that specific Sunday. This gave our group a greater understanding of the seasons of the church year and a deeper connection to the entire history of faith to which they were connected.
CHOOSE A THEME: Based on the scripture texts, we chose an overarching theme that reflected the main point we want to make; i.e. grace, forgiveness, Pentecost, justice. We had to think outside the box and come up with ways to get ideas across in concrete, visible, and audible ways. This type of thinking helped the youth make spiritual connections between abstract Christian concepts and their daily lives.
MAKE ASSIGNMENTS: Some kids were only willing to be ushers or greeters. Others would read scripture. Others performed piano pieces or sang special music. Others were ready for show time – willing to be in skits and dramas which served as the children’s message or sermon. Everyone was important and included, from the shy kids to the creative showstoppers.
PRACTICE AND PREPARE: The youth began preparing weeks in advance; learning lines, making costumes, and building props. We created new skits, children’s messages, and other parts of the service. The youth wrote prayers to be read during the service. They practiced their favorite songs to teach to the congregation. They thought of new ways to share the peace, present the invocation, and take the offering. The youth were encouraged to express their faith in all kinds of creative ways.
PRAY: We prayed, practiced and worshiped together in preparation for the Youth Sunday service.
Everything focused on sharing our lives of faith openly with the congregation. We prayed together for strength and guidance as we prepared to lead worship. This helped the youth realize the seriousness of what they were about to do – lead worship before the Living God of heaven and earth.
LEAD WORSHIP: When the day arrived we led the Youth Sunday service. This was often very stressful for me, but I think many young people fed off the excitement. All I can say is what I saw. They were excited, engaged, invested, and running on adrenaline. They loved it!
CELEBRATE: We gathered on Sunday nights to give thanks to God and celebrate together. The youth were pleased to be a part of something fun, challenging, and rewarding. It was a joy to see our young community of faith grow and mature.
Reaping the Benefits
I know some adults hold their breath every time youth lead worship. There is no question, you have to be there to give youth guidance through the entire process. If you check out, then they will probably go ahead and leap off a ledge somewhere and never know what hit them. For youth leaders, there will be a few bumps along the way, but the slip-ups are far out-weighed by the benefits that come from empowering youth to lead worship.
I currently work at a Lutheran Bible camp in Iowa. The same principles hold true for the kids who come to camp. When they are asked to help lead a morning worship or evening campfire program, they tackle the task with gusto! The challenge brings the kids together to work on something that is engaging and rewarding. It transforms the group mentality, gives them a greater sense of unity, and encourages them to express their faith in front of others.
We can’t afford not to engage our youth in the life of the church. Far too often, youth end up leaving the church because it doesn’t relate to them or they are not asked to play a meaningful role in it. Without doubt, youth involvement in the worship life of a congregation brings a new vitality to the congregation – both creatively and spiritually. It is critically important to the life the church and the spiritual health of our youth. Blessings to you as you seek to empower your youth to lead worship.
Cross the Sky Ministries