Developing a Youth Ministry that Values “Big Church”

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In the past several years that I’ve served as a youth pastor, I’ve noticed a concerning trend. We have three Sunday morning services, with Sunday School meeting during the second and third services. As our student ministry has grown, it seems that the default mode for new families is to send their students to Sunday School, while the parents attend “Big Church.”

Several factors may have brought this trend about, from youth ministry models that promote it, to students’ worship style preferences, and other factors. But regardless of the cause, I find this trend to be problematic for the spiritual health of students.

A Case for “Big Church”
Within the corporate gathering there are so many opportunities for service and growth that students miss out on it if they only attend youth functions. A few examples:

1. Hearing the Word Preached
There is preaching in Student ministry as well, but the corporate gathering is where the entire body of Christ sits under the preaching of Scripture. The letters to the New Testament churches were not Bible studies written to subgroups within a church; they addressed the whole church. Students get to be a part of this unique experience only in the Sunday corporate gathering.
2. Participating in the Ordinances
It’s during the larger gathering that we witness baptisms and take Communion. These are public, unity-displaying ordinances during which the entire body participates (Communion) or witnesses (Baptism). Students miss out if they don’t attend.
3. Knowing people older than them
Seriously. If our students only come to youth ministry, their interactions are going to be primarily with other students. They miss out on the blessing of knowing people older, wiser, and far more mature in their faith if they only go to student ministry events.
4. Seeing their parents worship
A parent can talk about the Bible, pray at mealtime, and do a lot of other valuable, important things in raising their children. But in a corporate worship setting, parents get to model and to act out their faith in a unique way. When parents worship, their children will see that their faith is something they cherish, and not just a rote set of rules or beliefs.
5. Becoming acclimated to adulthood in church
If students only attend youth ministry gatherings, then they will have a hard time transitioning into adulthood in their church. The corporate worship service offers something constant that will stay the same, even when their other activities in the church change.
6. Being able to serve
Sure, there are opportunities for students to serve in our youth ministries, but there is value in students being able to see the whole body of local believers and serving them. Whether it’s passing the offering plate, handing out bulletins, being a greeter, or helping set up or clean up after, students are benefited from the opportunities they have to participate in the larger Sunday Gathering.

Creating a Student Ministry that Values Corporate Worship
If this is true, then how do we set up student ministries that keep students from missing out on the benefits of the larger gathering of the congregation? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Consider what your Sunday morning gathering for youth communicates
If your youth gathering on Sunday morning looks exactly like a corporate worship gathering, but just for youth, you are going to (whether you mean to or not) communicate that it is an alternative to “Big Church.” There are two ways to combat this. First, you can change what you offer. Maybe don’t have music, or don’t have a lot of music if you do. Perhaps making the teaching time more interactive. If you don’t like that idea, then bending over backwards to communicate to students the importance of the corporate gathering will be key.

2. Talk to students about it
If you talk about what is going in “Big Church” it helps them to understand that they should go. You can encourage them to go directly, you can reference the sermon from the Sunday, or give them a preview of what is going to happen there today.

3. Communicate the benefits to parents
At the end of the day, parents will often be the ones to decide what their students will be doing on Sunday morning. If they see the value of their student attending the larger corporate gathering, then they will follow through with it. So find strategic ways to communicate this to them. For example, we have a meeting every Spring for parents of students who will be coming into the Student Ministry during the following school year. During that time, we have several things that we encourage parents to do, and one of those is to have their student attend the larger Sunday Gathering with them.

Students have such a wonderful opportunity in “Big Church” to see the body of Christ working together, and to participate in that work. Let’s celebrate it by showing them it’s value, and allowing it to transform their lives in a unique way.

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