As your younger parishioners begin to approach puberty, you may notice that their interest in Sunday school, church services and even church activities begins to waver. This is a normal rite of passage, as they begin those final steps toward adulthood and discovering who they want to be when they get there.
Rather than pulling back on church youth groups and activities geared for that age, you should be thinking about restructuring them to increase the appeal. These are your future primary congregants, and during the troubling teen years, you have a perfect opportunity to show how their religious background will always help lead them in the right direction.
1) Be flexible in structure. Teens are facing new challenges and need a safe place to work those out. When planning your youth group, keep the scheduling flexible, leaving plenty of time for "free" talk either with the youth pastor or among themselves. Not every meeting has to be about Bible study. Instead make the main subject themes that are plaguing them now, such as peer pressure, sex and drugs, with references to religion and spirituality in the background.
2) Recruit an enthusiastic youth pastor. A youth pastor does not need to be young, but he should have plenty of energy and fresh ideas for how to interact with younger church members. They should also be aware of trends in society and how to work those into the meetings. The more relatable the youth pastor is to the kids who join, the more likely they are to keep coming back.
3) Use the term "young adult" not "youth" ministry. Kids today are sophisticated and know more at their age than we give them credit for. Don't talk down to teenagers, but rather treat them like the young adults that they are. When they have questions, answer them; when they are offering their own insight, make sure you are listening. At this age, kids have more respect for adults who talk openly and treat them with respect. By putting this into practice, you are developing a youth group the young members will feel comfortable being a part of.
4) Work with what they know. Don't forget these are kids who are growing up in the middle of what we call the age of technology. Integrate modern technology into the youth ministry, and you'll be amazed at the increase in interest. Let them design pages for the church website or give them research assignments they can do through online searches. Take advantage of modern technology to communicate better with the youth group when meetings are not scheduled. Create a Facebook page where they can chat and share ideas from home. Use text services to send them messages about meetings and other activities. That can be done with ease using a mass notification system such as DialMyCalls, which is able to send a message to multiple people at the same time. Teenagers are more inclined to read a text message than any other form of communication. Using this type of service to reach out to them will definitely grab their attention.
Don't let diminishing numbers in attendance discourage you from offering a youth group to your younger church members. Adapt your program to meet the needs and interests of teenagers today, and they will be happy to keep up with their religious and spiritual education.
Tim Smith is the social media guru and support manager for DialMyCalls. This article was first published at churchtechtoday.com.
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