Lately, it's been a real struggle at one of the churches I serve to motivate some of our youth to attend worship services on Sunday morning, despite the fact that we offer a "contemporary" service that tries to reach the post-modern experiential learner. Some of our youth work on Sunday mornings, some choose to sleep in, some travel on the weekends to visit friends, and some simply aren't there because their parents are not in worship either. The result of all this is the dreaded youth "ghetto" where the youth all attend Sunday evening youth group but have very little connection to the wider church.
In speaking to some of my youth ministry colleagues, I see my church is not unique in this. And I'm increasingly convinced that the problem has more to do with us adults than it does with the youth. The biggest hurdles to overcome in motivating youth to want to be in worship isn't the music, the sermon, or the seating arrangement. The biggest hurdles are:
- Parents: If parents do not have communal worship as a value, it is unlikely that their children will. If parents do not make worship a spiritual discipline, neither will their teens.
- Other Adults: Part of the "ghetto-ization" of youth in the church is the disconnect between teens and all other adults other than those who help with the youth group. If the other adults of the church do not notice that the teens are not in worship or fail to engage them when they are there, or neglect the needs of teens when planning worship, the outcome is inevitable.
I'm not suggesting that our young people have no responsibility in developing participation in worship as a personal spiritual discipline. But I do think we have to recognize that they are still growing and learning and it is up to us to create a worshipping community that is welcome, inclusive, and embracing of all age groups in the church.
To hear a really fine lecture on this very topic, I recommend Darwin Glassford's talk "Connecting Disconnected Young People through Worship" at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, which you can listen to here as well as download a pdf of the outline. The part of his talk that struck a chord with me is the observation that many youth tend to be inarticulate when it comes to their faith. And where you find a teen who is inarticulate about her/his faith, you will likely find parents who are similarly inarticulate on the subject. The challenge of drawing youth to worship is a FAMILY thing -- the family at home and the family at church.