The Youth Pastor took the stage, asking the students in the room to rise in worship.
The Youth Pastor continued by saying, “In this room tonight, I would encourage you all to let the Spirit move.”
“What does that even mean?” Tommy asked himself. The next thing Tom knew, the band was playing and they were singing some crazy song about the Lion and the Lamb. “I thought Christians were supposed to sing to God.” Tommy thought. “Not animals!“
Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, everyone around him started closing their eyes, and putting their hands out towards the band. Some of them even started to cry and talk to themselves! “The Youth Pastor seemed so chill at the skate park, but all these cool people he described are freaks!” Tommy determined. “I’m out of here!“
Sound familiar? Likely not, but it happens all the time! For anyone who works with teens, we make it our job to visit schools, malls and skate parks; trying to connect with unsaved youth. Our passion is pure, with a deep desire for those students to know and follow Jesus.
Yet, the youth-church (not youth group) that we’ve created couldn’t be more uncomfortable for these students.
Some of you who work in student ministry are already shaking your heads in disbelief. That’s fine, it’s easy to test. The next time you visit your local school or youth hang-out; talk with some unsaved students. Ask them if they’ve ever been to a youth group before. If they have, without leading them, ask them what the most uncomfortable part was or why they never went back.
The truth will hurt.
Thankfully, our youth team found this out early on in my ministry to Alaskan youth. We had a mission to fill our youth centre with unsaved youth. Soon enough, we had to come to terms with why they weren’t coming back for a second visit. I remember our teens telling us why their friends weren’t returning; “It’s the worship!” one student stated.
“They don’t know any of the songs and it’s awkward for them. Other than that, they love it here!” A change had to happen!
Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions that Jeremy Norton doesn’t believe in worship; let me clarify. I see worship as vital for our Sunday morning services and I would encourage any and all students to attend. I also see great value in worship-specific events for our seasoned Believers. But also for our new Believers to experience worship in a youth setting.
Lastly, I see great value spending time in worship during retreats and trips where leadership development is a key goal. It’s all about the function matching the environment that is created for the function.
Pastor, speaker and author, Andy Stanley explains this best. Stanley suggests that life happens within three environments: The foyer, the living room and the kitchen. This metaphor is true of church as well. Worship is an intimate expression that is typically experienced by seasoned Believers.
It’s definitely something that needs to happen in the living room of the church. Maybe even the kitchen for some congregations. For this reason, worship needs to be removed from our weekly youth group, which is predominantly the foyer of our youth ministries.
As a final plea, think of your own home. Would you ever ask a guest to take part in your most intimate family practices or conversations? Of course you wouldn’t, because they’re guests! We want them to feel comfortable.
If we’re constantly encouraging our students to invite their unsaved friends, then their friends are the guests and they should take highest priority.
If you have guests in your youth group, than the environment should be conducive to a foyer environment. Here, in the foyer; it’s all about those guests. The environment is warm and welcoming. It’s an environment where introductions are easily made, with plenty of time for foyeresque chit-chat.
Of course, a tour of the house is always essential to a first visit. However, remember that a guest doesn’t have to experience the living room or the kitchen to know where they are.
At this point, some of you may be completely sold on the idea. This is exciting for me, because I know that you will be reaching more students because of this change. Never the less, before you jump in too quickly, a final warning would be to explain this well! Removing worship from regular youth night is too much for many of our regular church folk to handle.
You will need to explain the reasons well to your leadership.
Why should or shouldn’t your church’s youth group ditch worship?