From the Rite of Confirmation, youth are adult members of the congregation and as such can be expected to take on roles of service and leadership. In living out their vocation in these ways, youth can feel a sense of ownership and can positively impact their congregation and community. LCMS Youth Ministry’s research showed congregations with at least one leader under 32 had better rates of retention than those who did not.
Congregations should start with identifying a teen’s passions, gifts and skills. God has uniquely created each teen. It’s important to find the right role for them in service and leadership either inside and outside the church. Supportive adults and parents can help identify where the youth may excel then direct them to appropriate existing opportunities or even design new ones for them to fill.
Healthy youth ministry invests in a variety of ways for youth to make meaningful contributions to their congregation. Meaningful contributions are opportunities to give input into important decisions and provide feedback on ministry experiences, goals and direction. This active engagement respects the unique perspective and insight gifts teen offers. All young people can give meaningful contributions if the congregational leadership seeks out opportunities to listen well.
Congregations should engage and support youth in service inside the congregation, in the community and beyond. Service is any way we use the skills, gifts, and abilities of young people. LCMS Youth Ministry research showed 94% of Millennials, including those who had disconnected from the church, said it was important for a congregation to be involved in community service. Young people are watching the church and looking for the love of Christ to overflow to their neighbor. Gen Z is a generation of action and they value service as a way for God to use them to show mercy and point to the Gospel.
Congregations empower young people to be load bearing leaders by providing training, mentors, and space to learn. Load bearing leadership uses skills and abilities in roles that include decision making, responsibility and the ability to direct people, goals and resources. Not every young person is a good fit for leadership. Choose and mentor leaders carefully making sure they are deeply rooted in their Baptismal Identity and have the time to dedicate to leadership.
Fostering young leaders takes time and effort. They need to be coached, encouraged, and debriefed every step of the way. Whether in service or leadership, youth can quickly identify when the role they are taking lacks any significance or impact. When a young leader fails, they need to be able to offer forgiveness, grace and new opportunities to try again.
Leadership should reflect the diversity of ages in the congregation. Established leaders have experience, knowledge of systems and a critical understanding of history. They can help support young leaders and pave the way for their success. Young leaders bring energy to your congregational leadership. They can also serve as good examples for other young people and direct ministry towards ways to connect with their peers.
Opportunities to give meaningful input, serve and lead can be stretching experiences for youth as they develop and learn new skills. It is beneficial both for the young person and congregation. As they succeed and fail along this path, they can be reminded that all is done because of Jesus’ love for us and through the work of the Holy Spirit.