They were acolytes all through middle school.  They cleaned tables at church dinners.  They even sang at the occasional church service. They’ve been helping in the church for years, and now they’re old enough to be part of the youth group.

Young teens have been coming to your youth ministry events, and they are excited!  They want to be there.  Whether you (or they) realize it or not, they are ready to become even more active in the church!  So what do you do now?

Youth ministry is a movement from childhood to an adult relationship with the church. In a way, youth ministry is the bridge from acolyte to elder. Before they came to youth ministry events, your youth had little (or no) involvement in the church; after they “graduate” from being youth, they need to have the ambition to be active members of the church for the rest of their lives.  And it’s your job (with the help of God) to get them to that level!

“How do I do that?” you ask.

Every church is different.  However, every church has a wealth of opportunities to get youth more involved.  In my own experience, my rural high school youth group provided me many chances to help out in the church.  Being part of this group helped me conclude that to prepare the youth to become lifetime, active members in the Church, your youth ministry programs can offer two things to youth: education and experience.

Let’s start with education:

Until now, your youth have probably seen your congregation as a huge, jumbled collection of boards and committees.  (I certainly remember this feeling!)  They hear about worship committees, evangelism boards, altar guilds, and missions clubs, but do the youth have any idea what these groups do?  Do they know what it means to be an elder or the congregation president?  Youth will never want to be involved in the Church after graduating from youth ministry if they don’t know the opportunities available to them!  Maybe you can get members from different ministries to speak to the youth about their purposes and goals as a church ministry.  Find a creative way to educate the youth about the variety of groups in your church!

My youth group would sometimes host game nights and invite other ministry groups to join us. A game night created a fun chance for the two groups to interact and talk with each other about their ministries. Educating your youth about their congregation is an extremely helpful way to show them the structure of your church body, and it will show them the ministry opportunities they will have after their years in youth group.

Knowledge is important, but experience is vital. Don’t just tell your youth about the different ministries of your church; let the youth be part of them!  Here are some ways to do this:

  1. The worship service is an amazing, yet often untapped, site for youth to be direct participants. Do your youth know how a worship service is structured, and why it is structured that way?  Give your youth the chance to work with your pastor to help plan a church service. When they have helped plan a service, the youth will be amazed to see how much more connected they will be as worshipers in future services.  Personally, I never got the chance to do this as a high school youth, but after taking a class about Lutheran worship in college, I learned a great deal about the worship service. The church services I’d been attending for 19 years suddenly became deeper and much more meaningful!  Helping youth better understand the worship service is an essential–and relatively easy–task that a youth group can (and should) undertake!
  2. Encourage youth to be greeters, ushers, and lectors, if your pastor and congregation allow.  They can definitely be part of processions and choirs.  Talk about these roles at your youth meetings and help provide the opportunities for the youth to experience them. It has become a tradition in my home congregation for our youth group to assist with the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.  I vividly remember helping with these services as a youth; it was the first time I ever ushered, which meant that I helped with both the offering and communion. This was, no doubt, one of the best experiences that my youth group provided for me.  Ushering gave me a first-hand perspective on how a worship service is carried out, and it gave me confidence that I could definitely do these same “jobs” during future services!

Your church has countless other ministries for your youth to experience.  Explore the resources your church offers!  If you want to see your youth being active members of the church when they are adults, give them experience with the church now.  Get those youth plugged into the Church!

thESource is published on the Web by LCMS District and Congregational Services–Youth Ministry.  The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295; 1-800-248-1930; Editor: Gretchen M. Jameson; Assistant Editor: Dawn Cornelius-Gaunt; Layout: Gretchen M. Jameson. VOL. 2 NO. 4 February 2005.