I Killed Youth Sunday
Hello, my name is Jon and I killed Youth Sunday. Let me say from the start that you should continue to read the entire article before shouting for joy or leveling criticism.
A number of years ago I realized something. No one really likes Youth Sunday. I realized this as I sat at a lunch of roughly 10-12 other youth pastors. I asked them the question, “What is one thing that you would do away with immediately if you could?” Not only was Youth Sunday the number one answer, it was the only answer given by everyone. I’ve met congregation members who skip church or plan vacations on Youth Sunday simply because it’s Youth Sunday. I’ve seen churches plan Youth Sunday solely because the pastor was on vacation. There are Youth Sundays planned simply because that’s what the church has done for 37 years and that’s what we are going to keep doing.
That’s not to say that there aren’t Youth Sunday fans out there...
...There are, and I’ve spoken with them as well. There are kids who enjoy it and there are pastors who attend it for support. There are parents who get into it and help out as much as possible. There ARE successful Youth Sundays out there. It’s just that there weren’t a whole lot of them around me.
In my context I saw that Youth Sunday wasn’t fitting into the original purpose for which it was likely created. (I have to say likely because I’m not sure what the purpose was originally.) I saw frustrated youth leaders, frustrated leaders, and frustrated students all working to pull off two services that weren’t terrible. As I sat in the pew on the last Youth Sunday we had, I thought to myself,
“This is not the way to teach students about leading worship. All we are teaching them is the ability to lead once a year. Fifty one weeks out of the year they sit in the congregation and don’t contribute. There has to be a better way of doing things.” And so the next day, I hatched a plot to kill Youth Sunday.
There were a few crucial things that I learned about the process of killing Youth Sunday.
1. Pray about it...a lot- In ministry there is always the temptation to run with something the second we think of it. In that moment it’s a great idea that must be done immediately! We have a tendency to get caught up in doing certain programs and forget about one little thing, the will of God. Before taking any step in your ministry it’s absolutely crucial that you approach God and find out what God wants you to do. This is the most important step and can save you a lot of trouble in the end. If you determine that it’s God’s will to stick with Youth Sunday, stop here. If you feel that God is leading you to something else, continue.
2. You have to communicate clearly with EVERYONE- I sat in a meeting with my Youth Ministry Team (made up of volunteers) and quietly mentioned that I wanted to end Youth Sunday. My statement was met with 16 eyes that were staring at me. I quickly realized that if I wanted to keep the support of my team, I had better start explaining myself. Looking back I realize that I didn’t prepare my thoughts ahead of time and thought I could explain my reasoning on the fly. As a result I had multiple meetings where my team disagreed and rightly struggled with me. The truth is that when you are ending a sacred cow in your ministry,it’s not going to go easily. There’s a reason that it’s been happening for 37 years and if you don’t communicate clearly and effectively you could really do some damage to your team and ministry.
3. You should offer something better- I wish I could say that this was my idea but it really came out of wrestling with my Youth Ministry Team. As I tried to communicate my beliefs that Youth Sunday wasn’t the best way to teach students about leading worship, I had a couple of volunteer leaders press me. “If Youth Sunday is not the best way, what way would you suggest to teach students about worship?” one leader asked. My response was a very unprepared, “..........”. Our team continued to wrestle and we came to the idea that we wanted students involved with worship services on a regular basis throughout the year. So I sought out kids who were interested in different aspects of worship and worked to plug them in. I talked with the worship pastor and tried to figure out when we could fit students into the worship service on a regular basis. As students served, I could talk to them and teach them about serving in worship on an ongoing basis. We had kids sign up to pray, read scripture, greet, be in skits, play in the worship band, and more. We worked those students into the services when we could and everything worked awesomely.
4. Be diligent on follow through- Things started out really well and I was very attentive to trying to help students plug into different worship roles. But with most things, as time progresses, other things come up and you lose focus. Follow through is essential to make this work. It might mean taking extra time to scout out students who might not volunteer without encouragement. It might mean following up and coaching with the student who decided that he would not read the 12 verses of scripture before hand and as a result had to figure out pronunciations in the middle of the service (hypothetically speaking, of course). For overall success, follow through is essential.
5. Give God the glory- It’s pure joy to watch a student who serves in a worship service get excited about how God used them to lead worship. It’s a great time to affirm them, pat them on the back, or give them a Christian side hug. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) But in that moment of congratulations that’s when we can teach them the biggest lesson of all: Even when we succeed we need to give glory to God.
Our push to get students involved in worship has had some awesome side effects. We’ve seen students start getting involved in other areas of the church as well. We have students who have joined our Mission Stragey Team. They help shape what missions looks like for our church as a whole. We have students who help teach younger children on Sunday mornings. We are seeing the expectation of students change from being “consumers of church” to becoming servents of Christ in our church. Once that mentality starts to change you can release students to serve in almost every area of ministry that your church offers. It’s an amazing thing to witness and a blessing to everyone involved.
The Youth Guy
Jon has been in youth ministry since he interned under his youth pastor way back in 2001. Since then he attended college at Appalachian State University, married his hott wife, had two kids 362 days apart, (well his wife had the kids, he tried not to pass out), and has worked with countless youth in Richmond, Va. He is currently the Associate Pastor of Youth and College Age Ministries at a church in Richmond.