Teenagers + Worship + Disconnect

Published on February 15, 2016 by Eric Mathis  

Between the ages of 12 to 18, teenagers encounter many different types of worship practices. While adults may only worship in the primary worship space each week, teenagers who are active in church are more likely to participate in worship with the entire congregation as well as in the youth room at another time in the week. They also worship at school through chapel, small group Bible studies, FCA. Then, teens participate in worship at summer camps, fall, winter, and spring retreats, and major youth rallies such as Passion or significant denominational youth gatherings such as Triennium. And, the list goes on and on.

[If you’ve got the time, watch a few clips from these worship services. Here’s a call to worship at a large youth gathering sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Here’s worship with a youth group in the United States. Here’s the first few minutes of worship at Passion.]

The challenge? These worship gatherings tend to look very different. Camps, retreats, and denominational gatherings often make the use of the best musicians and speakers and technology, creating a high energy environment that young people gravitate toward naturally. Worship in the youth room may not have all the bells and whistles of a large gathering, but it has music and preaching along with skits, games, and other activities.

Then, when teenagers attend all church intergenerational worship, they find it to be different from large youth rallies and worship in the youth room. Many teens are confused or disappointed or bored because their congregation can’t/doesn’t/won’t duplicate what they experience in the youth room or denominational gatherings. Other teens attend large youth rallies or worship in the youth room and wish it were more like worship with their whole church. The sum of these experiences contributes to an emotional rollercoaster that is all too familiar: highs at certain events, and lows at others.

In this complex worship landscape young people are left to wonder which picture of worship is “right.” A good question adults might ponder is, “What thread ties together the worship gatherings our teenagers participate in?” Or, “How can we provide our teenagers with consistency in worship?”

Here are quick questions church leaders might use as a starting point:

A question for youth ministers: What faithful worship practices from our congregation’s worship life can our youth group borrow and adapt for their own?

A question for worship leaders: What unique expressions of worship are happening in the youth room, and how can we introduce those into our congregation’s worship life?
A question for youth retreat leaders: How can we incorporate innovation in responsible ways while balancing the worship traditions of teenagers at this retreat?
(This is part of an ongoing series that began with 10 Observations about Teenagers and Worship.)