When you look around at your church, how many younger members do you see weekly?
It’s no secret that churches often struggle to connect with kids and teens–one poll showed that more than two-thirds have five or fewer young people in their worshipping community.
If you’re in the same boat, then it’s time to consider new ways to engage the next generation of churchgoers. Otherwise, you risk not having regular members in the future.
You need to ensure that they feel like they belong and then sustain this connection over time. Here are five best practices to build relationships and reliable connections with the youth in your ministry.
All church or youth leaders are capable of providing the one thing youth long for the most—sincerity.
Teenagers want to interact with adults who are genuine and honest. They’re not looking for an act or for someone who tries too hard to relate to them.
Though you want to meet teens where they are, it’s easy to miss the mark and become disingenuous. While it might be tempting to focus on developing a sound knowledge of Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok to earn the right to talk to teens–it’s unnecessary.
Younger members will be more comfortable if you act like someone your age, rather than trying to pass as a 16-year-old.
Church leaders can fall into a trap where they see their role as merely doing ministry to young people rather than doing ministry with young people. This limited view does the church a disservice as it limits the agency of young people.
Young people–especially older teens–see that their place in the church is to make it feel trendy. Your strategy becomes reduced to attracting people to programing rather than connecting them to a larger narrative or involvement. (You’re also missing out on the passion and creativity that youth bring to the table.)
Asking teenagers to contribute based on their skills and interests can help them feel involved. Don’t just put out a general call for volunteers–ask teens to help out in areas that you know match their interests. Good things happen when you do this. Plus, they feel more like a part of the church.
The Pew Research Center conducted a nationally representative survey of 4,729 people to determine why people attend religious services. Two of the most common answers cited for not attending religious services was “I haven’t found a church I like” and “I don’t feel welcomed.”
Honing in on the latter reason, it’s always a good idea to adapt to the environment of your church’s services or youth group to appeal to an unknowledgeable audience. For example, is the language that you use, new-person friendly? Do you use Christian language and not explain it?
It’s easy to talk and not even realize that you can make new youth members feel uncomfortable.
You might speak at length about worship, prayer, communion, and baptism and assume everyone knows what is happening.
Think through a young member who has no church background…all of those things are new to them. Let’s be honest: do you explain to them so they understand?
Some churches do what they a “call to worship” every single week. Someone from the church family will explain what the next 15 minutes are about–always assuming that there is a new person in the room at every service.
The idea is to let people know why they’re singing, the words they’re reading, and why worship is essential. Make this a part of your service: new people will understand, and your service will feel way more inviting.
Another Gallup poll found that church membership is down 20% in the last 20 years. Despite this trend, we’ve seen churches that use text messaging to communicate with their members experience tremendous growth.
This positive growth in membership might be partly explained by the fact that young members want to communicate by text.
While social media receives a lot of attention, ExactTarget’s Channel Preference Survey of 1,500 internet users ages 15 to 65 shows that those under the age of 25 prefer SMS to email and instant messaging.
For example, Milestone Church uses text messages to engage its youth ministry. Over 7,000 contacts have subscribed to Milestone’s texts since they began using SimpleTexting two years ago. Similarly, Coastal Cathedral was able to increase its volunteer turnout by 100%.
You can use SMS to:
They say that the average attention span is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds. That is less than the nine-second attention span of your average goldfish.
While this makes for an attention-grabbing headline, the underlying research shows that people aren’t bored in eight seconds–they simply want to be engaged in eight seconds.
One way that youth workers are handling this is by focusing on small groups. They help teens bond with each other by removing participation barriers that can exist in larger group settings.
There’s no one silver bullet when it comes to engaging youth in your church. If anything, the world keeps changing. But by focusing on creating an involved, inviting culture that communicates the way your audience wants you to, you can make leaps and bounds in engaging your younger members.