Lesson 3: Youth Groups

A Gathering of YouthIf recent refusals of denominations to finance their seminaries are self- defeating, the tendency of many to neglect youth work is just as silly. It is certainly a factor in the lack of young people at our worship services.

I have some idea what is going on as my wife and I have hosted high school, college, and young adult youth groups for decades. We meet for dinner and discussion of a topic they have picked at the end of the last gathering. I send out a short paper that serves as a basis for the conversation. Usually, I just make an opening statement and let the discussion go where they want. And, of course, that is, more often than not, far from where I anticipate.There is just one rule: no putdowns. Everyone’s opinion is respected.

I find that young people are very interested in religion, but in different ways than their parents. The older generations could assume the Bible and Shakespeare provided some sort of common story and values. The younger are aware they live in a very diverse democratic community. They reflect the science-based, technological global society in which we live. The good life involves the ability to solve their problems, and they know there are many options available for them.

Two issues associated with religion jump out right away. Our groups are comfortable with all sorts of human sexuality options. Our society might be struggling with accepting gays and lesbians, but our young groups are talking about their transgendered friends. Our denominations are talking about relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants, usually in terms of doctrines. The young people could care less about theology. They are looking for any insights that help them find a satisfying lifestyle, and consider practices from all world religions.

They appreciate my positions, but place just as much value on those from other people in the group. What used to be authority is now just another voice to be considered. Most say they are not worshiping, because the sermons are not relevant to their needs.

They are not convinced when their parents rationalize that they should attend to worship God rather than seek instruction for their lives. They sometimes laugh because their parents believe sermons are supposed to be boring in order to test our faith.

When I try to convince young people to go back to worship; they usually respond by saying they would consider this, if church were more like our youth group. I think they might be on to something. I recently have been reading about many creative congregations in our cities that are based on this model of eating together and then reflecting on the assigned scriptures. If churches continue to shrink, I can imagine the church of the future might be smaller, more informal gatherings in which the Word will be discussed rather than preached and the Communion shared as a real friendship meal.

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5 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Scott says:

    Personally, I think the trend is to home based small groups (again, the meal and conversation model you propose). Then the Church gathers for corporate worship at the mega-church, with its TV-style highly produced worship experience with a live band. Worship is energizing and thought provoking but secondary to small groups. In the church growth movement, the Sunday worship is when all the small groups get together. But the core of “church” happens in homes. Small groups are where new members enter the church,
    creating hundreds of entry points for new members– not just on Sunday
    morning.

  2. Fritz Foltz says:

    I had a chance to discuss this lesson with a Sunday School class at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I was interested in their response as they have very active youth groups. As soon as you walk into their building, you see young people all over the place. The class reported their kids want to come to Church and felt a good deal of the reason was the congregation made clear they wanted them there. They felt the secret was not special programs or methods but leaders who showed they loved them. Someone suggested our approach should be not only that we have gifts we want to teach them, but also that they bring gifts to us. We should listen as well as speak to young people. Another followed that up by saying we should see new members the same way. Rather than trying to make these new members good Lutherans, we should emphasize the gifts they bring to enrich us.
    That was a significant observation as this congregation has many new members, most from non-Lutheran backgrounds and many from all kinds of ethnic groups.

  3. Michael says:

    “Most (young people) say they are not worshiping, because the sermons are not relevant to their needs” Hard to admit–but pastors need to pay attention.

  4. Susan says:

    I read the lesson as I always do and I have to say I think you’re onto something with the new worship model.

  5. Phyllis says:

    Oh yes, this strikes home. Many times during a sermon, I find myself wishing that all in attendance had attended Bible Class (a feast of the foretaste to come) where we discussed the gospel for that Sunday. The discussion is lively and helpful in understanding, it would be wonderful to end the discussion with the sharing of Holy Communion. After a great Bible Class, it is sort of mellow to go into the sanctuary and sing and praise God; but I feel that I have gotten the real food in the Bible Class.

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