It is an amazing phenomenon! Sometimes the two of us amuse ourselves by watching the fascinating behavior of our youth group as time nears for Sabbath worship service. At first they come in, somewhat attentive to what is going on. Then almost instantly their attention is lost it is like someone flipped a switch and turned something off. We call this action "zoning out." They zone out of the activity in the pulpit and engage in activity with each other, oblivious to what we call "worship." And if we are honest with ourselves, we can't really blame them. Sometimes we zone out too, but prefer to call it daydreaming. Either way, we also turn off the action up front. What is the catalyst to this behavior? Why does zoning out happen?
As we wondered, we noticed that most of the participants in our worship service were male elders in the church. On occasion we may have an adult woman participant, but rarely did our youth and young adults participate in the pulpit during our regular worship services. If they did participate in regular services, it was to demonstrate some musical skill. In addition, we found that most of the worship service was geared toward Adventist adults talking to Adventist adults. No wonder our teens tuned out of our services. They didn't want to eavesdrop on this conversation we adults were having among ourselves.
Much of our youth ministry energy goes toward developing exclusive programming and activities for teens. Among some of our youth leaders there is a strong push to have a youth church service separate from the main service. As we talk with our youth leaders and compare notes, they too see the zoning out phenomenon and hope to remedy it by "doing our own" service.
We feel that may be useful short-term solutions but our fear is for the long-term. What message do we send to our youth by separating them out because our main worship is irrelevant to them? Further, what impact does being separate from the adults have on our youth? What are we communicating by this action?
Recently our local church took a needs survey of our youth and young adults. The most prominent issue that emerged was their (youth and young adults) desire to have adult church members more involved in their lives.
Another prominent issue was captured by a young person who said, "I know what I believe. The question for me is 'Where do I fit in? Where do I belong?'"
There is a Chinese proverb that says, "Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand."
Let's Involve Youth
Our challenge to youth leaders is to spend some of your ministry energy integrating youth and young adults into the very core of church life. Inoculate your "main worship service" with youth and young adult participation. Place the cloak of mentorship on church elders and adult leaders, calling them into relationships with your teens. Help develop inclusive worship language. Involve youth and young adults in church administration, utilizing their spiritual gifts and their professional expertise. Take one or two young people under your wing, giving them the inside track of your ministry. Involve them.
We hope that by our efforts to meet this challenge, youth and young adults will not only tune in to church but also understand that this is where they belong.
Allan and Deirdre Martin have served as youth and young adult ministry consultants.