Having been in youth ministry for almost two decades, I sometimes assume that all the stuff in my "bag of tricks" is widely-known and S.O.P. for all youth ministers. But in the event that there might be some young/new/amnesiac youth pastors out there seeking ideas, I wanted to pass on these suggestions for engaging youth in prayer. I suppose most of us would love it if we had a group full of young people who loved to pray and were fully comfortable with sharing their deepest concerns out loud with a group. But since we are working with adolescents, this is never likely to be the case. Young people are often shy about sharing verbally with others for fear of being laughed at or not being able to really articulate what they feel. Additionally, not all youth (or adults, for that matter) are verbal learners. So here are a few prayer ideas that tap into other intelligences and learning styles:
Tinfoil prayers - Pass out a sheet of aluminum foil to each person. Invite them to take time in silence to craft the foil into the shape of something they want to offer up in prayer. They could create an object, an initial of a person's name, or even something abstract. When finished, students can choose whether or not to share about their prayer request represented by their foil creations and then all foil prayers are placed in the midst of the group for a closing prayer.
Play-Doh Prayers - Much like the one above, youth are given a lump of Play-Doh and asked to create a shape representing a prayer need. When everyone is ready, join in a circle and have persons, one at a time, place their creation in the center of the group and in some way attach it to the other Play-Doh creations to represent the way our shared prayers become one.
Pipe-Cleaner Prayers - Pass out several multi-colored pipe cleaners to each person and invite them to create a shape that represents a prayer need in their lives. When all are ready, present each prayer creation verbally or in silence and then have the group work as one to attach all the pipe cleaner shapes together.
Photo Prayers - Sometimes youth just can't think what to pray about so this idea uses photos to spur young people to consider the prayer needs in their lives or world. Cut out photos and images from magazines and place them in the center of the group. Invite youth to retrieve an image that connects with them and some need for prayer in their lives. Ask each person to share why the image grabbed their attention and how it speaks to them about a prayer concern.
Candle Prayers - Place a ton of votive candles in your worship space with a larger central candle in their midst. Light the central candle and invite youth in silence to come forward and light a votive from the central candle to represent a prayer for another person in need. Allow this to be an unstructured time so that youth come forward as they feel ready and allow individuals to light as many candles as they like.
Bulletin Board Prayers - Establish a bulletin board or other wall space in your youth room where youth can regularly post photos, news articles, and messages lifting up joys and concerns they want to share with the group.
Magnetic Poetry Prayers - This one is a little more ambitious. Create wall space in your room painted with magnetic paint (yes it exists) and provide an ample supply of magnetic poetry words for youth to create a wall of creative prayers to share with others. Similarly, paint a section of wall with chalk paint and allow students to graffitti their joys and concerns right on the wall.
Sand Prayers - Set our a plastic container filled with sand. One at a time, invite each person to go to the container and trace in the sand a world or symbol of something for which they seek forgiveness. When they are finished, invite them to pass their hand over what they have drawn, obliterating it as a way of accepting God's forgiveness.