Some time back I observed a congregation dealing with an interesting issue. To strengthen their youth ministry in the past, they had bought a building next to the church for the youth, due to limited space in the main building.
Now the youth building had become a visible and quite established reminder about how the youth ministry was its “own” entity in the congregation. In fact the youth even had their “own” service on Sundays, when they came over to the main building for a contemporary worship experience, before heading back to their fort.
This youth isolation had become a concern for the leadership in the congregation. In an attempt to address the issue without alienating the youth, the buzz word became integration, and the need to integrate the youth ministry with the rest of the congregation.
I decided to offer them my own advice to the situation.
Instead of seeing the solution somewhat being about helping youth be more active in the main building, we should reverse it, and focus more on ways to get others to join the youth in their house.
It seemed obvious to me that the main hub for vitality, creativity, and excitement was in the youth building. It was the key to move forward and become something more, to actively participate in God’s continuing creative activity, to see glimpses of God’s reign, and help the youth experience God’s grace. The way forward for the congregation was through the sofas in the youth building.
This advice was not meant to diminish the great work the congregation already does, and has been doing for decades. It was about meeting the youth on their turf and listen to their concerns and thoughts, allowing them to lead the thought process about integration.
I thought my advice was both smart and insightful, respectful to the youth and offering the congregation an exciting way forward.
The congregation didn’t really need my advice at the time. The had already started an assessment process aimed at listening to the young people, figuring out how they saw the future in the congregation.
The youth had a predictable and automatic first answer. A well known response to all grown up interference to youth at all times.
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey teacher leave us kids alone
The youth understandably didn’t seem to see the value of this integration at a time when they were declaring independence from their family and childhood and form their own identity.
However the youth were wrong in their assessment. At least from the perspective of the church as a whole. It is vital for the church to be part of their identity formation, not only as a youth ministry but as a wholesome image of the body of Christ.
Congregations that are serious about healthy youth formation, and integrated youth ministry, must be ready and willing to listen to the youth, their concerns and their wishes.
However, they must also be ready to correct the youth and call them out when their wishes go against what young people and the church as a whole need to prosper, grow, and bear witness to God’s grace.
I don’t know what happened next, I didn’t follow up afterwards, but my initial feeling was that the youth were left alone in the youth building, continuing to form a church identity based on flippant games, badly played electric guitars, and funny mission trip experiences with peers only. And some s’mores.