From Segregated to Integrated
We see in Scripture two realities that should shape our approach to youth ministry. One is that when God’s people gather to worship, all the generations tend to be included. The other is that faith being passed from one generation to the next is the Lord’s intention. The family is the primary place for this, but the assembly of believers is also part of the process. Through these we know that younger generations grow up understanding what it means to be in God’s covenant community. If a church decides to take seriously the patterns and instructions seen in God’s Word, then the task is to move from segregated or associated into a more integrated model of youth ministry. The process for doing this includes educating, including, and raising expectations.
Students must be educated as to what the church is and how it functions. This is best when taught explicitly, as well as modeled. Adults need to learn about the challenges that teens face today in order to be able to support, nurture, and encourage them. In the church that has come to accept segregation, Scripture must be taught so that the whole congregation understands God’s intentions as well as the benefits for all.
This comprehensive handbook looks at every facet of youth ministry from a gospel-centered perspective, offering practical advice related to everything from planning short-term mission trips to interacting with parents to cultivating healthy relationships.
Intergenerational relationships occur when students are included. Not only do they witness the gospel at work in the lives of people at all stages of life, but Scripture commands that the older generations are meant to teach younger people how to be men and women of God. Studies have shown that where young people grow up with intergenerational relationships, they are far more likely to remain involved in the church for life.1 Opportunities for intergenerational relationships need to be created and encouraged in the church.
Finally, expectations must be raised about what youth are capable of doing in church. In order to integrate students into all aspects of the life of a congregation, the members must see the capabilities of youth. They must not be seen as the church of tomorrow but brought into the life of the church today. This is in part an education process, but it also takes time to demonstrate that students can participate meaningfully in the church.
Give Students Meaningful Roles in the Church
Are there meaningful roles for teens in your church on a regular basis? Do students read Scripture, participate in the worship team, lead prayers, greet, usher, or serve in any other ways in worship? Offering students such opportunities makes them feel as if they are a contributor in the church here and now. This feeling only enhances the chances that they will continue in such a role as they enter adulthood.
Students must be educated as to what the church is and how it functions.
Engage Young People in Sermons
Do sermons effectively engage all generations? A sermon that can be understood on various levels, including illustrations that touch every generation, is far more effective for all ages. When a pastor makes sermon applications that address the situations of teenagers’ lives, he communicates to the teens that they are a part of the larger body. He says that the leadership considers teenagers important members of the congregation. When a pastor never demonstrates how the sermon applies to teenagers, students hear that worship is about the adults and that the young people are invited guests to their meeting.
Encourage Families to Worship Together
Are we actively encouraging families to worship together? Are there programs or patterns that prohibit families from worshiping together? I can think of few worse ideas than having a youth service run concurrently with the main worship service, such that teenagers are separated from the rest of the congregation.
Develop an Intergenerational Group of Youth Leaders
Does the youth ministry team reflect a variety of ages? Young adults who work with students don’t have much life experience. Older leaders will help connect the age gaps in a church.
Encourage Older Adults to Initiate with Youth
Are older adults encouraged to reach out to youth? We cannot expect students to initiate relationships with older generations. At the same time, older adults may feel hesitant to initiate with teenagers without exhortation. Let adults know the value of initiating conversations and relationships with younger parishioners.
Host Intergenerational Events as a Church
Does your church offer intergenerational events? These are the easiest and most common ways to connect generations, although they are not enough in themselves to bring full integration.
We all want what is best for the youth of our churches. God has shown us a better way than the age-segregated congregation. There is a place for a youth ministry in the church! But our efforts to minister to teens must be an integrated part of the life of the church. The future of our churches depends on the way we integrate our young people into the intergenerational people of God today!
1. Mark Kelly, “Research: Parents, Churches Can Help Teens Stay in Church,” Lifeway, August 7, 2007, http://www.lifeway.com/article/lifeway-research-finds-parents-churches-can-help-teens-stay -in-church.
This article is adapted from Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see growth right away. It might take months and it might even take years, but keep being faithful to your calling as parents.
To a youth pastor who is feeling discouraged, your reward is in heaven where you’ll see in glory the things that Jesus has done through your ministry, you’ll see the fruit of your labor.
The relationships, the preaching, the teaching, and the admonition of a specific church body are as vital to teenagers as they are to every other believer.