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!