If there’s one thing youth can detect from a mile away, it’s inauthenticity — especially in authority figures like parents, teachers and pastors. This applies to everything from small details like failed attempts at using “relevant” slang to big things like hypocrisy of character. Teens tend to have their guards up, always scanning to discern who they can trust to be genuine as well as accept them for who they are.
Senior pastors are no exception. Beyond simply trying to connect or relate in a way that misses the mark, youth are especially turned off by adults who “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk.” If a pastor says he or she cares about engaging youth — that their contributions are valued and they are integral members of the congregation — but does nothing to show it, it means nothing.
To truly act on these beliefs, senior pastors have to have a strategy for engaging youth in a meaningful way — a strategy that includes action. Not only does the pastor need to personally get to know the youth in his or her congregation, the pastor should create opportunities for young people to be a vibrant part of the church body. This could look a number of different ways, but whether it’s creating a youth council that helps make decisions that affect them, regularly including them in service projects and worship services alongside adults, or simply asking them how to better serve them and the other youth in their schools or community, pastors have to “walk the walk.” After all, actions speak louder than words, and in our distraction-steeped culture, we must intentionally and strategically speak louder if we want to reach the next generation for Christ. Youth who have a sense of ownership over their faith and their involvement in their church are much more likely to remain committed to their faith long after they leave youth group. As adults and church leaders, we have responsibility to create open pathways that allow them to do so.
Get creative; consider how you can use the resources you already have and engage the students already in your congregation to reach them more effectively. Youth pastors, volunteers and other leaders are of course a valuable asset, but ultimately the tone for how a church uplifts and engages young people is set by senior leadership. By taking tangible steps toward this goal, you’re inviting other members of the congregation to do the same.