"Students are the church of tomorrow."
Is this really a true statement? Does the Bible teach that those who are teenagers are not real members of the family of God until they become adults? This could lead to the discussion about the necessity, usefulness, and benefits of youth ministry and how it varies from church to church. The majority of the churches that we serve in usually have teenaged students. Rather than figuring out how to reinvent youth ministry to reach more kids, let’s first strategically think about how to engage the students who are already in our churches.
1.) Expose the students in your youth ministry to the pastors and elders of your church.
Students are used to seeing the pastors and elders of the church on a Sunday morning preaching, leading the service, and talking during meetings. This is good. However, it can be just as valuable for these leaders to step into the youth ministry for particular events, teaching segments, or counseling sessions, to remind the students that these leaders really do care about them.
This does not need to be complicated. Ask the worship leader or pastor to come to your youth group and lead a few worship songs. Invite the elders to come into your Sunday school class and interview them about their life, involvement in the church, advice to students, and what they would do differently if they could go back to being a teen again. Once a year at my church, the senior pastor agrees to come to our midweek youth service for a “Hard Questions Night” where students can ask difficult questions about the Bible in which he answers and teaches them in this unique way.
2) Invite students to serve in your church beyond menial tasks.
There is nothing wrong with asking students to serve behind the scenes by stacking chairs, setting up classrooms, and helping the janitor around the church. I would actually argue in favor of how assisting the church in tasks like these is immensely important for the development of teenaged students. However, would it not also be influential to ask the students to stand at the doors of the church and welcome people as they enter the building or assign students the task of helping pass the offering plates during the service? Is there a verse in the Bible that describes a requirement of those who pass the offering plates must be at least 35 years old? Another easy way to engage students is to ask them to sing on the praise team or to read Scripture during the service.
These tasks are important because they can build rhythms into the lives of students both now and for the rest of their lives. In the youth ministry I lead, one of the most exciting things is partnering with the assimilation ministry of our church. This gives the opportunity for students to engage in ministry that encourages them to interact with a variety of church members.
3) Strategically plan events that are for multiple generations.
When planning events, it is important to remember that the church involves multiple generations. Think about the potential of having breakfasts for fathers and sons to eat, laugh, and enjoy a morning together once a year. Offer Sunday school classes where students can sit with their parents and learn about topics that are crucial to their life both now and after high school. What would happen if you hosted a multi-generation game night where students learned how to play Rummikub followed by adults competing in a Mario Kart video game tournament with the students? The church is fertile ground to mix the generations and allow growth to happen within all ages.
Youth ministry might not need a total makeover. Instead, we need to think strategically about how to incorporate students into the life of the church. Remember, students are not the church of tomorrow. We must remember they are the church of today and are of enormous value to both Jesus and the rest of his church.