Q&A: How can we get more teens to our church?
We answer a question from a church looking to grow their night church service.
We recently received the following question, and have copied Youthworks College graduate Mike Dicker's answer below. We hope it might be a help to other churches looking to help grow their ministries to young people. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us any time!
"My church recently started a night church service which was supposed to be aimed at young adults and teens but there are lots of young families and not many young adult/teens (probably about 5). We already have a youth group but we join with another church for that and most of the people go to the other church. But we figure we need to get some sort of program running for the youth (during or after church) and I wanted to ask for any suggestions you might have!"
Mike Dicker says....
Every youth ministry has to based on your theological principles and philosophy of church practice, but moulded to your particular context and resources. I think it's great that you are able to partner with another church in youth group for your young people. There's a lot to be gained by smaller churches pooling their resources to make youth ministry happen. There's always an urge for smaller churches to do their own youth ministry rather than send their young people off to another church. Mostly I think this is a good urge that comes from a desire to look after and love the young people around you, but sometimes the urge comes from the fear that maybe you'll lose your young people to the church down the road. So what do you do?
Firstly, youth group is only ever a very short term part of youth ministry. The long term activity of youth ministry is including your young people in church so that they are not merely spectators of adults doing church but full participants.
Secondly, given that you only have a small number of teens and quite a lot of families with young children at your night church service, I think you should try and make that evening service a place that includes your young people in serving. Instead of having a "young adults and teens" church service, try making it a service for all people, so that the older is serving in church with the younger and vice versa.
The benefit of the above approach is twofold. Firstly, young people need to be able to serve with people who are older than them so they can be guided by mature Christians with experience. On the flip side, older people need younger people to serve with, so they can be reminded of the vigour and enthusiastic potential of youth. Added to this is the display of God's wisdom and glory to the world when such a diverse group of people come together because of their unity in Christ and not because of their unity in age or gender or race, it's a glimpse of heaven!
The other benefit of young people setting down roots in a multi-age inclusive church service is that young people are more likely to stay on in church past their teenage years. There are already so many big transitions in the lives of young people, beginning school and changing from primary to high school, but the biggest transition is arguably from finishing high school and entering the adult life of university or employment.
If a young person has only ever been involved in age-specific ministries and not included in serving in a multi-age church, then it's usually at this point that so many young people stop going to church. But! If a young person has always been involved and serving in a multi-age church when they reach the end of high school, they have the benefit of a community that hasn't shifted with each passing age group, and a place where they can find stability amidst all the transitions around them.
So what does this mean?
It means that most of your energy needs to be spent in shaping your church services so that they involve children and young people. Include your children and young people on the rosters - get them welcoming, Bible reading, leading church prayers (yes even children!), playing in the band, organising and serving morning tea and supper etc. Work hard with parents to help them prepare their young people to be involved in serving, to teach them how to pray publicly, to teach them how to read the Bible out loud, to teach a ministry mindset to their young people. In partnership with the Sunday church services and as an addition to the youth group from the other church, try starting a mid-week Bible study group for the 5 teens that you have so that they can have some age specific ministry and build some good bonds and history with their peers.
Outside of this, the point will come when your children at church will have grown up and become teens themselves and, God willing, our heavenly father will have brought more teens and families into your church and you'll have the resources and the numbers to start your own youth ministry that doesn't replace church but rather partners with the multi-age church that they already go to and serve in. Maybe this will spring out of your mid-week Bible study group.
Until that point, you might like to run a youth group before (not during) your evening service that trains them to serve in church, or perhaps a short Bible study that helps them become active listeners during the service. Just try not to over-crowd your Sundays or commit to new youth ministry initiatives that you don't yet have the resources to fulfil. Start small, like a mustard seed, and go from there.