Recently we had our Youth Sunday service at our church. It was great, it really was, but it wasn’t without it’s headaches, stressors, and a few surprises along the way. Upcoming the last weekend of November is the ‘Student Sunday’ within the United Methodist Church calendar, which I believe is more geared for college students, but it could be a good time to do a special service with the teens leading.
So, if you are up for the challenge, when you are devising your Youth Sunday special service, here are some obvious and not so obvious things to plan for and watch out for.
1. Have Extra Music Practice.. Then more practice: With my all youth praise team we would practice at least 4 hours of the week prior, not to mention playing some of the songs ahead of time. But new songs take work and if you plan your music selections as I do, with the other generations in mind, we don’t want to just dump on them our standard praise sets. You get mad props for playing songs they like as well. If you are using the house band or musicians you can get away with less practice time, but you still probably need to set 2 hours. Music will make or break you, give it the extra attention. With that said, I give any kid a chance to sing or play. Many times they will practice and choose not to be live on Sunday, but it is open and I’m cool with it. This is a gift/talent/expression they want to share with the church, we are a safe place for them to do that. If they are on their electric guitar, however, I might incline them to keep the volume a little lower.
2. Ask if there are any strange traditions of Youth Sunday: With my most recent experience at a new church I had the service mapped out and sign ups filled out weeks ahead of time. I was feeling pretty good. When it came time for rehearsal I had some interesting to surprises “What adults are going to acolyte?” “What? None..” “Really, they always acolyte.” “Seriously??” Well, if they did before they didn’t this time, I hadn’t planned for it but in the midst of planning I never asked if there were any ‘different’ traditions of the service to plan for. Ask the question and if you get no responses you can move on.
3. Who do I need to tell to do something or not to do something? Again, in my most recent experience at a new church it was a few days later when one of the ladies stopped me to tell me that if I wasn’t going to use the ushers then I needed to tell such and such person. Good information to have now, but where were you weeks ago when I was planning this and as it was on the calendar for over a month? So ask the question, “Who do I need to tell to do something or not to do something?” and you will cover your bases and probably find out a little bit about the worship dynamics from week to week.
4. Get a Youth to do the Sermon!! This is Youth Sunday, not Youth Director Sunday, don’t get lazy and step into the pulpit (unless upon your senior pastors insistence). Pray over the service, pray for the group and ask for guidance in asking one or two to give the sermon for the service. It’s a huge leap for some kids, challenge for others, but with some coaching and some practice they can do great and the people of the church love it. Does not have to be the most theologically deep sermon, ie. don’t try and tackle the Trinity Sunday sermon (pastors regularly avoid that one). You may help in shaping this one, or it might be one of those where your pastor/s could would be willing to work with the youth on the sermon prep and coaching. That might be a great long standing relationship.
5. Rehearse step by step and write down notes: Though many of your youth, as do mine, participate in worship from week to week, rarely are they in these focal roles. So going through a rehearsal process is critical to making sure that the usher kids know their cues, even how to grab the plates (speak from experience on that one). Nothing is more scary then to look over where the youth are supposed to be and they are not there, in fact, they are still behind you.. “Oh Snap!” Go through a step by step process, it might seem trivial and exhaustive, but the youth will be thankful for it when it comes ‘go’ time. Write down notes through the bulletin/order of worship etc. so that they can reference later.
6. (wait this article says 5, I know, feeling generous) Use volunteers to focus on leading each segment. You cannot be everywhere for everyone all at the same time. So hand out responsibilities to your leadership to work with the youth on that one specific task. Your job then becomes the overseer and puzzle builder of the whole thing. So have a youth leader of yours operate the ushers, music, communion, etc. Trust me, this is important and you will thank me later.
Inevitably someone reading this will say that they don’t care for special youth Sunday’s because they exploit the youth in a fashion where we let them out of their room once a year then send them back while the big kids go back to doing church. If that is the case then I’m not in favor of that, but you need to start somewhere in integrating your youth into the full life of the church. They need to be active participants and not passive observers, so start them off somewhere. If they are already doing stuff then this becomes a neat experiment as they challenge themselves with new roles that they are not traditionally accustomed to.
Gavin Richardson is Digital Community Builder for YouthWorker Movement and the Short One at YouthWorker Circuit. He has been in youth work for almost two decades now, has been a writer and consultant on numerous internet and published projects for the church. He’s often a speaker around the country on church communications and community building. His current projects are working on developing online Youth Disciple Groups and finishing a new book “Sticky Sheep.” He is the part time youth guy at Good Shepherd UMC in Hendersonville, TN. If you ask, he will say that he is a “misfit” of the church. He lives in Nashville with his wife Erin, son Brooks and dog Crimson. You can connect with Gavin (and he’s totally cool with that) through http://about.me/gavoweb.