Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Youth Sunday: The "Bugsy Malone" of the Church

    I recently communicated with our blogger friend Jeremy Zach about how to organize a youth Sunday (Jeremy, by the way, is currently featuring a series of interesting interviews with youth ministry bloggers, including yours truly. Check them out here). Our conversation got me thinking about why I just don't like youth Sundays. And I can sum it up in one word: Gimmick.

    Years ago, before most of you were born, this country was forced to endure the release of gangster movie called "Bugsy Malone." But this was no ordinary gangster movie. It had a huge gimmick: all the parts were played by kids! And instead of the guns shooting bullets, they shot cream pies. How many us have "Bugsy Maloned" the annual Youth Sunday service by replacing all the adults with teenagers? And how many of us have helmed Youth Sundays where the communion was replaced with something like Coca-cola and goldfish crackers? That's the "Bugsy Malone cream pie gun" version of communion. Do you see the problem here? This let-the-youth-take-over-for-one-Sunday-and-do-whatever-they want approach is too susceptible to being seen as a gimmick. And something that is seen as a gimmick is often not taken seriously. So what would I suggest instead? When planning a Youth Sunday service:
    • Encourage the youth to respect the basic format of your established worship service while infusing it with their own particular gifts. This may mean that they sing or perform the music, write the prayers, or deliver the sermon.
    • Make the planning of the service intergenerational. Get the youth working with your regular worship team or the pastor. Encourage them to involve other adults in the service as liturgists, musicians, ushers, etc.
    • Provide an opportunity for teens to partner with the pastor to develop and offer the morning's sermon, possibly even as a dialogue with the pastor.
    • Challenge youth to remember that worship should be designed to be meaningful to all ages and allow all present to worship God without being tripped up by the form of the service. (Translation: if gummy worms in place of communion bread is going to keep someone from coming to the table, it might be worth a second thought.)

    This sort of approach could set the tone for a Youth Sunday that is less gimmicky and more a celebration of intergenerational leadership in the church. In fact, it just might set a new standard for how worship is designed and led from that day forward. Perhaps there will no longer be a need for "Youth Sundays" because youth will be involved intentionally and meaningfully in worship EVERY Sunday!



    Danny Bradfield said...

    I'd never heard of that movie. Watching the preview was ... frightening. Certainly some good thoughts in this post.

    Brian said...

    Hi Danny. Yeah, it was Jody Foster's next picture after starring in "Taxi Driver." I'd have fired her agent!

    Randy said...

    i am all for youth involvement in "regular" Sunday worship on a regular basis. AND am all for having occasional "Youth Sunday" services. the gimmick pitfall is hard to avoid and is the big danger. the "ain't they cute" black hole.

    the huge plus is the opportunity for a more "pure" and concentrated youth voice and expression of their understanding and walk in faith to be shared – and hopefully heard.

    i embrace all your suggestions for ways that might happen.

    fyi – youth will be involved in leadership in ALL worship services at the DOC General Assembly in Indianapolis next summer.

    Brian said...

    Hey Randy. Good to hear from you. I agree that a blend of youth Sundays with regular and meaningful involvement of youth in worship is a good mix. In my last church, we discovered that the less youth were involved in worship, the less likely they were to attend worship.

    Anonymous said...

    Excellent post and suggestions. Great reminder that young people do not make up the entire Body of Christ.

    One suggestion I have heard for these "Youth Sundays," is to have the High School group make a top ten list of the biggest things they struggle with throughout the year.

    The #1 biggest issue or concern becomes the focus for a worship service that they help plan with the Pastor and worship team sometime during the year.

    The next four concerns on their top ten list become topics that the Pastor agrees to preach on four times during the year.

    The last five issues are then topics covered by the youth ministry team, or sunday school teachers five times throughout the year.

    A congregation that uses this model says the Sunday that the youth help plan the worship is the most attend service because for an hour the whole congregation gets to hear the biggest concern facing their teenagers and how God meets them there.