Engaging Youth in Meaningful Ways

The Church’s Young and the Restless: Part 1

It’s no secret that young people are increasingly less engaged with the Church — not only in the U.S. but around the world. In the fast-paced world in which we live, deep connections are harder than ever to cultivate with friends and family, let alone to our faith and in our church communities. While none of us are immune to the distractions of our day-to-day, it is particularly so for young people. 

Youth are constantly bombarded by messages, advertising, images of friends and celebrities they want to emulate — all from a device in their pockets. So much of their sense of identity and worth is wrapped up in the number of “likes” they get on an Instagram post or comments on their YouTube channel. While it could be easy to brush off the social pressure this brings and the amount of time youth spend cultivating their online personas as silly or a waste of time, they have grown up in a culture in which these pursuits are the norm. They can engage or they can be left behind.

Living in the constant “white noise” of comments, videos and texts means many youth are continually distracted from anything meaningful. If they are not intentional about it — or do not have others helping them be intentional about it — they can easily get swept away in these pursuits of belonging and miss out on deeper, more significant relationships — the most meaningful of course, being with Jesus.

To pull them out of this cycle and capture their minds and hearts, caring Christian adults must learn to speak their language. This doesn’t mean pretending to act how our teens act — most of us can understand that would not be well received — but leaning in to the ways they communicate rather than sticking to what we know. We have to be willing to engage in their world, to listen to them and be curious about who they are and what they enjoy. 

One way as church leaders we can do this is by how we choose to engage the younger people in our congregation throughout the week. Perhaps this means starting an Instagram account that features quotes from a sermon and asks follow-up questions, or posting relevant videos that encourage discussion. Young people are not simple-minded or unwilling to think. In fact, when we give them the opportunity, many young people are more than willing to share their thoughts and engage in discussion about deeper topics, especially if we give them a channel they’re used to communicating on. On the contrary, most youth balk at being “preached at” or told exactly what to think. By encouraging discussion, church leaders and parents can not only get to know youth on a deeper level but spark an interest for the teen in owning their faith.

More than simply engaging online or ways in which youth typically communicate, adults must always remember relationships are capable of transcending the noise. We were all created to live in relationship — even young people — and we all long for genuine community. Putting in the effort to be more accessible and relatable can open those doors, but getting to know youth by being present, asking questions and showing them you value their contributions is the real key to sustainable engagement. Social media is great for communicating ideas and information, but it’s not great at connecting hearts. Relationships are what will prompt heart- and life-change and encourage youth to commit to church involvement, not a popular Instagram post. Of course, relationships are also the most effective pathway to leading someone to a deeper relationship with Jesus, which is ultimately the most important goal of all. 

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