Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    10 Ideas for Rethinking Sunday School

    Almost a year ago we began a reconsidering the traditional approaches to Sunday morning Christian education with youth. Some in the youth ministry blogosphere have recently called for the end of Sunday school as we know it. While it might seem easiest to simply jettison Sunday morning classes for youth (after all, what teen wants to get up early on Sunday morning?), I'm not ready yet to give up one of the few weekly hours we have with our teens. So rather than just telling our youth to sleep in, I'd suggest rethinking the current model.

    Most churches are likely still using a variation of the Sunday school model developed in the late 1700's in England. At that time, church schools grew up as a way to educate the poor in the basics of reading and writing. They also served to provide underprivileged children, who worked the other six days of the week, a place to go on Sundays where they could be supervised and get a basic education while receiving religious instruction. They were, literally, schools. And we've held onto that concept right up to today, with children still sitting around tables, still doing fill-in-the-blank worksheets and still memorizing scripture verses.

    In short, many churches have failed to adapt to the changes in culture over the past century. It's time to rethink the purpose of religious education for youth. If our primary goal is not to simply pour dogma into their heads but rather to be companions with them on their journey of faith, "Sunday school" might look quite different. A few suggestions:

    1) Get rid of the curriculum - Our task is to mentor teens -- not to teach lessons. Youth go to school five days a week and don't need one more day of school on Sunday. So let's stop focusing on getting through the prescribed lesson plans and focus instead on the individuals. Throw away the workbooks and worksheets. Allow the "curriculum" to grow organically from current issues and themes that are important to your particular students. Tie biblical study to newspaper articles, current movies, tv shows, stories or problems your teens are facing in their daily lives. Generate a list of moral/ethical/what if questions and get your youth talking. Out of these discussions can grow all sorts of clues as to what they need the most in the way of theological guidance.

    2) Create a relaxed setting - No more sitting around tables or in rows of chairs facing a speaker/teacher. Use your youth room or any space with comfortable seating arranged in a circle. I'm not advocating the notion of a youth room crammed with distractions like video games and loud music. Rather, what youth need is a comfortable space where they feel free to share and talk.

    3) Get out of the building - Why does Christian education have to take place in the church? Why not make use of a nearby coffee or donut shop, a park or the church lawn?

    4) Turn your teens into teachers - Some youth, who will never set foot in a Sunday school class, will more than happily teach younger children. Partner interested youth with adult mentors and allow them to help with your children's classes. They will likely learn more as teachers than they ever did as students.

    5) Make it intergenerational - Youth ministry is moving away from a teen-centered model to a church-centered model. It's time we stop isolating teens so much from the wider church fellowship. Look for ways to connect your youth with the adults and vice versa. Working from an idea of Jacob's and connecting it to another interesting idea from this blog, we've spent this past school year inviting various adults from the church to come to the youth class and be interviewed about their faith. The teens came up with five basic questions about God, Jesus, scripture, and the Church and invited each interviewee to talk for about 20 minutes. At the end of the time, the guest leaves and we spend the rest of the hour debriefing what they shared. Not only have our youth been exposed to a variety of understandings of faith, but they've had a chance to deepen their relationships with many adults in the church. We need to continue to look for ways, such as this, to bring our adults and youth together for education. How about semi-regular Sunday morning forums for all ages, focused on social justice/cultural/theological topics of interest to adults and teens?

    6) Offer a variety of experiences - Familiar with the workshop rotation model of Christian education? Typically used with children, this approach invites the learner to focus on a single biblical text for several weeks in a row, each time experiencing the story in a different way such as drama, cooking, mission projects, movies, science, writing, art, and so on. There is no reason this same approach would not work with teens, allowing you to tap into their different intelligences and learning styles. One side benefit of this model is that it works best the more adults you involve as leaders of different workshops. Tap the artists, the musicians, the scientists, and the chefs in your congregation to come work with the youth.

    7) Partner with Parents - I imagine that many of us who have trouble getting teens to come to Sunday school are also dealing with parents who don't come to Sunday school. Why not provide an opportunity for the two groups to come together? Offer a short term "family group" and see what happens. Get youth and parents sharing about their faith, their values, and their views of the needs of the world. Work your way toward a family retreat weekend. Take turns having parents and youth help you lead the discussion and study. (And don't worry too much if your youth say "We don't want our parents in our class!" After all, our call is to offer youth what they need -- not necessarily what they want.)

    8) Practice spiritual disciplines - Just like anything else, spiritual disciplines take practice. Consider offering opportunities each week for youth to experience prayer stations, or to try lectio divina, or simply to observe the Sabbath through rest (I have one student who would love to spend Sunday school time each week just laying on a couch in the youth room napping or reading a book!). The excellent site Way To Live provides a host of resources for introducing youth to a variety of spiritual practices.

    9) Team up with other churches - My church reaches a critical mass in Sunday school by partnering with the Presbyterian church across the street. Make the ecumenical move and see if there are other neighborhood churches who would like to join you in developing a cooperative Sunday morning program.

    10) Create short-term experiences - Keep youth interested by regularly reforming the Sunday morning experience. You might spend time in the fall focused on planning and carrying out mission projects. In Advent, turn the group into a drama team and prepare a series of skits to augment the worship services. In the winter, transform into a film series and tie your discussion to movies selected by the youth. When spring rolls around, study other faiths and denominations and arranging visits to other churches and places of worship. Int the summer, morph into a photography club, inviting youth to create a group photo show based on "images of God" that they find in the neighborhood around the church or throughout your city.
    Bonus Idea: Still can't get youth to come to church on Sunday morning no matter how creative your approach. Well, who says Sunday school has to happen on Sunday morning. Let your teens sleep in! Gather after worship for lunch and study, or the hour before or after your regular evening youth meeting. For those youth willing to make the commitment, the extra time and attention from their youth leaders and friends will be a plus.

    Of course, this is just a sampling of creative approaches to Sunday morning Christian education for teens. To know what is right for your youth and your church, gather together a small group of those who can help you rethink what you are doing and why. Once you have a clear sense of what you want to offer teens and what you help to accomplish, begin brainstorming how to get there.


    Monday, April 27, 2009


    Congrats to the randomly-selected winner of our first youth ministry blog scavenger hunt: Kristin, minister to youth for a Baptist church in Virgina. She will receive two free resources: Worship Feast: 50 Complete Multisensory Services for Youth and Worship Feast DVD: Prayer Stations. Thanks to all those who entered and for your encouraging words. Several of you mentioned that the scavenger hunt turned your attention to some great new blogs. More scavenger hunts to come in the near future so if you have a youth ministry blog you'd like us to possibly feature, let us know.

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    Great Youth Ministry Ideas: "The Amazing Face"

    Youth minister Jason has posted a great outline at his blog of a project he's been developing for awhile called "The Amazing Face." Focused on the helping young people raise their awareness about homelessness, this event uses the format of the reality tv show "Amazing Race," sending teams out into the city to experience first-hand what it is like to live on next to nothing, while also finding out about all the ministries and organizations that serve the homeless. He lays out how he organized the event and provides descriptions of what happened to his youth as they worked their way through the challenge:

    They had not even crossed the street when they found themselves waiting at the corner next to a man pushing a cart with all of his belongings. Literally one block later they were passing guys in ties and women in fancy dresses going to eat at the elite restaurants downtown. Lesson number four about homelessness became the fact that we shop and dine right next door to those who are going without and we should pray that God gives us eyes to see those in need.
    You can read the entire post here and then consider whether you might be inspired to develop a similar challenge in your town or city.

    Rethinking Youth Ministry on Twitter

    You may have noticed that Rethinking Youth has made the jump to Twitter. Though apparently we are supposed to be using it to update you regularly on what cereal we are having for breakfast or how bored we are at work, we actually only post links to useful, interesting, or thoughtful youth ministry blogs, articles, and websites. Check out our latest updates a little further down on the left side of this page and then start following us on Twitter to keep up on all the links we share.

    Thursday, April 23, 2009

    CREATIVE WORSHIP: Teens on the Road 2 Emmaus

    Preparing to preach on the "Road to Emmaus" story this week, I've invited a bunch of folk to share with me any experiences they may have had of the risen Christ. For the cover of the bulletin, I asked our communications minister Ron to create the image for me that you see below: a painting of Christ and the disciples walking together on the road to Emmaus but with the disciples cut out. The challenge of the image is to project yourself into the experience. To consider where/how/when you have been surprised to find the risen Christ in your midst. What if you posed this same challenge to your youth? That is exactly what Jason at the Livefish blog did when he asked his group one night to share "where they had encountered God in a place they least expected."

    In a time of worship at a youth gathering, share the Emmaus story from scripture (Luke 24:13-39). Next, provide a copy of the image below to all in the group. Ask them for their response to the image in light of what they've just heard. Encourage them to project themselves into the image -- to see themselves perhaps as the unnamed disciple walking with Jesus. Ask: What might keep you from recognizing Jesus even when he's right next to you? What might have to happen for you to open your eyes to Christ's presence?

    As an act of offering, invite youth to share experiences of times they were surprised to find God/Christ in their very midst (I just had a student share with me an experience of meeting Christ in an encounter at a frat party when he saw a campus ministry friend of his drunk and throwing up! No telling how your teens might respond to this challenge so expected the unexpected.)

    It's interesting to note that scholars have been unable to show historical evidence that a town called "Emmaus" ever existed. John Dominic Crossan, reflecting on this, suggests that Emmaus never happened--rather, it always happens. It happens over and over, not just to those in the past, but to those of us in the here-and-now whenever we open ourselves to noticing Christ in the world around us and in our willingness to "be Christ" in our welcoming of others.

    Reminder: Youth Ministry Blog Scavenger Hunt Ends Soon

    The entries continue to come in to our first Youth Ministry Blog Scavenger Hunt. You have until midnight Sunday April 26 to email us the answerd to the five questions and to be entered for our youth ministry resources give-away. And if your blog was not highlighted in this hunt, don't despair. There are more scavenger hunts to come. Good luck!

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: easy as it looks!

    You know the old youth ministry game where everyone grabs hands in a big jumble and tries to "untie" themselves without letting go? Well, this is not that activity! For this community builder, you will need one piece of 3-foot rope for every two people. Pass out ropes and ask youth to practice tying an overhand knot -- otherwise known as the first step in tying your shoe. When they all have a clear idea of the knot, instruct the group to form a line and grab hold of the rope that the person next to them is holding. You should end up with a line that looks like this: youth-rope-youth-rope-youth-rope-youth and so on.

    Once in place, their goal is to tie an overhand knot in the center rope (i.e. the one in bold above) without anyone letting go of the rope(s) they are holding. What's the trick? There really isn't one, other than the group must cooperate, brainstorm together, and think of themselves not as individuals but as one, unified rope! This activity could easily be followed up with a discussion of leadership within the group, being attentive to the needs of all, listening to different voices, and how we are called to be one body in Christ.

    Monday, April 20, 2009


    Today we announce a new regular feature of this blog --a feature designed to both turn the spotlight on some of our favorite fellow youth ministry bloggers and as a way to give away some great resources. Our Youth Ministry Blog Scavenger Hunt invites you to visit the blogs listed below in search of answers to our scavenger hunt questions. After finding the answers (and, we hope, spending a little time checking out the various blogs), email us your answers. Everyone submitting 5 correct answers will then be put into a random drawing for these two free resources:

    Worship Feast Prayer Stations DVD - a helpful tool for the beginner wanting to design prayer stations. Includes video demonstrations, printable resources, photo images, and songs for six different prayer stations.

    Worship Feast: 50 Multisensory Services for Youth - Includes outlines and resources for creative prayer services, services for the spiritual journey, community-building services, seasonal services and suggested resources.

    Here is your scavenger hunt list. When you have your answers ready, email them to Brian. Deadline is midnight Sunday, April 26. Happy Hunting!

    1) Stuart at The Ramblings blog serves with a ministry whose mission is "to invite and challenge youth to a lifelong journey in relationship with Christ and His church. This mission is the heart of our ministry to local teens, many without a church home or a relationship with Christ." What is the name of that ministry?

    2) What special title does Jeremy at Small Town Youth Pastor give his Thursday posts?

    3) Grahame blogs from the UK at Insight. One of his most popular resources is a free ebook offering 40 _____ for small groups. What goes in that blank?

    4) Ethan at Blog on the Edges regularly posts creative approaches to youth ministry. Among his many talents, he is a writer. What kind of writer is he? (hint: see his profile)

    5) Jason at Livefish posted on April 20 a great idea for an event helping youth see the reality of poverty and homelessness. The title of the event is a play on a popular reality tv show. What is the event's name?

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    The Death of Evangelicalism? The Death of Youth Ministry?

    Those of us in mainstream protestant churches already know that we are in decline and can expect some big changes in the coming decades. At the risk of sounding like a junior Nostradamus, I imagine that the Church of 2050 will look considerably different from the one we have now: smaller, more culturally-marginalized, less politically powerful and, dare I say, more passionate and true to emulating the way of Jesus. I have no trouble foreseeing that we will abandon our big buildings and return to house churches, coffee shop churches, and meet-in-the-park churches. What will youth ministry look like in this new (actually ancient) understanding of Church?

    Even as we mainline and progressive Christians brace for the shift, some are now predicting that the evangelical movement better getting ready, too. Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, warns of a coming evangelical collapse in a recent essay in The Christian Science Monitor. He lists a whole host of reasons for the collapse, including:
    We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.
    He continues:

    Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.
    There was never a more pressing or exciting time to be rethinking youth ministry. So what's next for those of us who care about the place of young people in the Christian faith? I'll share my thoughts in a coming post "The End of Youth Ministry: Where do we go from here?"


    Music Video: "Beyond Belief" by David Wilcox

    This video is of the new song "Beyond Belief" by David Wilcox. It speaks to the hypocrisy and wall-building that turns off many to present-day Christianity, ultimately challenging us to hear Jesus' call to "Be the mercy. All people need the peace. This fight over faith won't bring them relief. I love them beyond belief."

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Introvert or Extrovert: What Kind of Youth Leader Are You?

    How does your personality influence your ministry with youth?

    Are you an introvert or an extrovert (or somewhere in between)? Introverts recharge their physical/emotional/spiritual batteries through moments of solitude. Extroverts charge their batteries by being with others. Consider: Does your place on this continuum have any influence on your ministry with youth? I've been wondering about this lately. Though I certainly think that crazy games and activities have their place in youth ministry, I tend to prefer to develop activities for youth that are contemplative, restful, based in conversation and in small groups. I'm an introvert so this makes complete sense. Conversely, I've noticed that extrovertish youth ministers tend to develop youth programs full of high energy activities and outings, with loud music and lots movement.

    So what about you? As you look at the kind of youth ministry you help to shape, does your personality on the introversion-extroversion scale seem to have an influence? And if so, what does this say about the ministries we are developing? Are they more about us or more about those we serve? I don't have an answer to this but I do think the issue is intriguing. -- Brian

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    COMMUNITY BUILDER: Zen Scavenger Hunt

    Here's a youth ministry scavenger hunt idea that encourages lots of conversation, interaction, and give-and-take amongst team members. 

    Teams are sent out to collect a number of items, perhaps ten, within a given amount of time. The catch: they do not know yet what exactly is on the scavenger hunt list. They do not receive the list until they return with their items. They are then given a certain amount of time, as a team, to figure out which item best fits each descriptor on the list and to come up with a persuasive argument that will convince the judges (in a sense, this is a "reverse engineering" game). For example, if the scavenger hunt list item says "A new kind of drink holder," teens may try to convince the judges that the basketball they found best fits this description because it has a place for a straw to be inserted, can hold lots of liquid, and won't break if dropped! Teams should be allowed, within reason, to modify their found items in order to make them better fit the chosen description on the scavenger hunt list. Of course, they will really have to work together to come up with their presentation of the objects and how they will argue their connections to the scavenger hunt list. Some sample descriptors for the list might include:

    • A symbol for peace on Earth
    • A conversation starter
    • Our new youth group mascot
    • A tool to encourage sharing
    • Something Jesus could have used
    • Church worship 3.0
    • A new way to study the Bible
    • A aid for helping world hunger
    • A forgiveness machine
    • Useful for an object lesson about "resurrection"

    Savoring the Small Stuff

    Last week was extremely busy. We had church services on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evening. Then, Easter morning, the day began with a youth sunrise service, followed by breakfast, and two more church services. But overall, holy week was spectacular and full of new hope, new beginnings, and new energy.

    What happens when Easter Sunday is all over? Even though many of us are tired, it feels almost like a letdown—like an absence of energy. This morning, I came across the following quote: So often we sell ourselves short: we think that, because nothing spectacular is happening, nothing is happening at all. Yet life is full of moments of conversion, however small they may appear to be and however unnoticed they may pass. For they are (or can be) steps in the gradual buildup to a decisive conversion experience that marks a new and distinctively recognizable moment of grace in our lives…

    This, I believe, is an accurate portrayal of youth ministry. As we journey into the risen Christ with our youth, and into the busyness of summer, we need to remember that the little things (like planning all of those little details, choosing curricula, informal conversations, emails, and whatever else) all help lead to those big moments when we feel privileged and honored to be in ministry with youth.


    Thursday, April 09, 2009

    Image of the Day: Bread Man

    An interesting image (and idea) for contemplating Maundy Thursday. Read more about this idea for creative worship here.

    Friday, April 03, 2009

    Prayer Stations Video

    For Maundy Thursday, my church will host a Taize worship experience that will also incorporate prayer stations. We did something similar for Ash Wednesday and found that the contemplative format of Taize worship was a perfect match with an experience of moving through the various prayer stations in silence. This video is a nice example of how to set up a space with some very basic hands-on prayer activities. For other ideas, see here or here. -- Brian

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    Looking for Youth Ministry Resources?

    We know how it is. It's getting closer to Sunday and you still need something to fill out your activities for youth group this week. Just as a reminder, our archives are full of a variety of free resources that may just be what you are searching for so take a look and see what you can find:

    Community Builders - Here you will find a host of youth group-tested games, ice breakers, projects, and ideas designed to help build relationships, trust, and fellowship.

    Creative Worship - Looking for creative ideas to engage youth in worship? Here you will find a variety of suggestions for worship experiences that tap into teens' different styles of learning and multiple intelligences.

    Prayer Stations - Just want some quick ideas for creative and interactive prayer stations or prayer centers for youth? Look no further.

    Bible Studies - Here you will find a collection of ideas for engaging youth in creative and reflective study of scripture. This section includes general ideas and links to resources as well as a variety of complete Bible study lessons.

    Ideas/Resources - Are you simply looking for something new to add to your youth ministry bag of tricks? You're sure to find something here in this catch-all compendium of ideas ranging from art projects to videos to youth ministry resources we think you'll like.

    In addition to all that, don't miss the tabs at the very top of the page where you'll find a list of our favorite youth ministry bloggers and a list of free youth ministry resources available on the internet. Happy hunting!