Published on December 6, 2016 by Paul Ryan  

It’s no surprise – students are attracted to visual media. Images from television, video games, mobile phones, and the internet saturate their days and nights. They use images to communicate with their friends. They learn with visuals in the classroom. They entertain themselves with pictures and animation.

It’s equally no surprise, then, that the church is incorporating visuals in worship to connect with youth. Though good arguments can be made for limiting the use of images, their use in worship can be a powerful means of shaping the worship experience.

For example, consider the prayer of intercession. This can be a challenging time to maintain students’ attentions. Many times these prayers are long. Most often they are spoken by one individual, usually the pastor, and they rarely include active congregational participation. Add to this a seemingly irrelevant prayer list of health concerns and we have a recipe for extreme teen boredom.

Here, the addition of images can make a world of difference, especially through what is called, “Praying the Headlines.” This is a creative way to pray that engages youth in worship and also involves them in planning and leading.

Over the course of a week take the local newspaper, a USA today, or a New York Times and rip off the major headlines. Gather 25 to 30, pulling from the regional, national, and world sections. Look through the science section, health section, and business sections. Tear out both good news and bad news.

Invite a student to scan the headlines and create a PowerPoint presentation. (Newsprint on black background works fine.) After putting the headlines into a presentation, arrange them into two broad themes: headlines for thanksgiving and headlines for petition. Within the broad categories arrange the headlines by regional, national, and world events. Finally, sift for the most significant headlines, selecting ultimately fifteen to twenty items for prayer.

When it comes time to pray, allow the visuals to lead. Leave five to ten seconds in between each slide to allow space for silent mediation, petition and thanksgiving. It may be helpful to add verbal cues before each section: “Loving God, we lift up to you silently the needs of the world” or “Gracious God, hear our prayers of thanks for the good in our world.” You may consider closing the intercessions with a simple sung refrain like, “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.”

I’ve found that praying this way engages students visually. It helps make the prayers of intercession relevant, making the youth aware of God’s concerns around the world and expanding their sights beyond their immediate concerns . Through the images, we bring into worship the stuff of the world and help our youth pray authentically for the work of God’s Spirit.