One of the questions I hear most frequently from the older people in my congregation is, “Where are all the youth?”
I’ll admit, this question frustrates me. Underneath it is typically one of two beliefs:
- There are no youth in our congregation.
- If there are youth, they don’t care about our congregation.
Neither of these assumptions is accurate.
Our congregation has youth and they care deeply about it.
Where, then, does this perception come from?
First, it comes from the fact that typically, our youth sit with their families in worship. As a result, they blend in. Since they often look either older or younger than they actually are, they aren’t readily identified by others as “youth.”
Second, youth don’t always attend church-wide functions. Again, this isn’t because they don’t care. It’s because they’re busy people whose schedules don’t always allow them to come.
Given this, it’s important that we, as youth workers, take steps to remedy these misconceptions. Here are some simple things you can do to help people notice the youth in your congregation.
- On occasion, sit together in worship. Whenever my youth ministry does this, I’m always stopped by people (often the same ones who ask me where all the youth are!) who then say, “We have SO many youth in our congregation! It’s wonderful!”
- Encourage teens to attend church-wide functions, even if they’re not particularly interested in them. Doing so powerfully communicates that they care about your larger congregation in a very big way.
- Invite adults to attend a youth ministry event. So often, when adults lament, “We have no youth”, what they really mean is “We have no youth at the stuff we care about.” But that goes two ways. Often, youth feel like adults don’t care about their stuff either. So be a bridge builder. Give adults concrete ways to support your ministry in a variety of ways.
- Share pictures from your ministry’s events on your congregation’s social media sites as well as on bulletin boards. As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” When adults see pictures of teens, they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are indeed youth in your congregation.
- Tell stories about what God is doing in your ministry. When someone asks me “Where are all the youth?” storytelling is my default response. I say, “Let me tell you about what our youth are doing and how God is at work in our youth ministry.” Then I launch into ONE concrete story that paints a vivid picture of this.
- Literally, remind adults where the youth are. When I’m asked where the youth are, I also tell people, “They’re on the second floor in our youth room. It’s filled at least twice a week – on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Feel free to stop by. I’d love to introduce you to some of our youth.” Never once has anyone taken me up on this (though I keep hoping someone will.) Even so, this reminds adults where they can, in fact, find the youth.
Older people want to know where the youth of your congregation are because they care deeply about it. They want to know that your church will outlast them.
So don’t be shy.
When you get the question, don’t just bristle and ignore it. Instead, help people see the ways in which your congregation ministers to youth (and is ministered to by your youth!)