Teenagers + The Worship Mall

Published on February 6, 2016 by Eric Mathis  

“Young adults are no longer born into faith communities that embrace them fully and command their allegiance over a lifetime. It becomes necessary to shop for a place of worship, rather than simply inheriting the congregation in which a person is raised.”

Robert Wuthnow, After the Baby Boomers

This week, I’m tackling a third observation about teenagers and worship: Teenagers have always lived in (and are learning to navigate) a pluralistic liturgical landscape.

In contrast to adults, the post-millennial generation has not known, experienced, or lived in a period where a single style of worship has prevailed. They don’t know about a time when all of America worshiped with a choir and the swell of the pipe organ (did that ever really exist?). They weren’t around when their parents and grandparents began to think about worship by style. They didn’t live through the worship wars of the late twentieth century, and (thank goodness!) they aren’t jaded by the battle scars older generations possess.

But, that means the worship mall is all this generation has always known. Following patterns teens have no doubt observed in emerging adults, they are already shopping. They observe worship patterns in their home congregation that may offer one, two, three, four, or five different services. They talk about worship with their friends on occasion. The more they learn, the more apt they are to do liturgical shopping with emerging adults and perhaps the rest of their family.

I’ve worked with teens who participate in youth group activities at their parents’ church because their childhood friends are there. Then, they drive across town to worship with friends from school, whose worship style matches their preference. I’ve had conversations with moms and dads who have said they’ve felt like they had to “force” their teens into worship. I’ve known parents who have bargained with their sixteen-year old to attend Wednesday night youth group at their home church so they could worship on Sunday morning with a friend. These are complex situations!

Sometimes, it seems adults are so caught up in the worship mall that we teach teenagers to ask the wrong questions about worship. Because adults tend to gauge worship by style, quality, and quantity, teenagers learn the same habits. How might we foster a generation of worshipers who navigate the worship mall with freedom, as well as responsibility? How might we help our teenagers ask deeper questions about worship than adults do? Three quick thoughts, and six (ok, seven) great questions to use as a starting place.

Help teenagers anticipate worship gatherings they will participate in with these questions.

What do you need to say to God in worship? What might God want to say to you?
Who will you sit with, and how might they help you worship?
Reflect on worship with teenagers with these questions.

How did you hear the voice of God in worship?
What might you like to carry from worship into the coming week?
Encourage teenagers to ask deeper questions about worship by asking them yourself.

What image of God did worship portray today?
How did worship reflect our community?
(This is part of an ongoing series that began with 10 Observations about Teenagers and Worship.)