At large family gatherings, when the house is packed, some families choose to create what is called the "kids' table." It's a little table, off to the side, to keep the noisiness and mess of the young 'uns away from the adults. Sometimes, our youth group programs can become like a kids' table, creating a well-intentioned place for young people to gather, yet ultimately isolating them from adult relationships and the full life of the church.
We're getting rid of the kids' table in our youth ministry. We're making some significant changes in our youth ministry and church, changes that will help build an intergenerational culture and a stronger sense of church family, creating structures to build relational bridges between young people and adults. Here's the video we created to share this news, as well as the email we're sending out to our church this week:
In Psalm 78, the psalmist is writing about the history of the people of God and His acts of love and faithfulness. He writes this:
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders. (NLT)
What would it look like if our church family embraced the heart of the psalmist? What would it look like if a generation of young people found a church where they felt like they belonged beyond the youth program? What would a church look like where the concept of a “generation gap” simply didn’t exist, where young and old served and worshiped Jesus alongside each other, together?
In a lot of churches across North America, many young people are choosing to leave the church. The statistics are alarming: the drop-out rate of high school teens graduating from church at the same time they graduate from school is somewhere between 60 and 80%. These young adults quietly abandon the church, slipping out into the wider world, unlikely to return. Christianity and church involvement become similar to a teenage phase they went through, like punk music or jazz band—that was my “Christian” phase.
We’re tired of the statistics. By God’s strength, we think our church family can be different. We want to see young people graduate from high school with deep connections and relationships with other members of the body of Christ. We are a church that will not hide the good news of Jesus from our descendants; we will tell the next generation the about glorious deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.
We want to be a church where every generation is faithfully equipping the next generation. From age 6 to 60, each generation follows Jesus together as the family of God. We recognize and value generational differences, but won’t allow those differences to dissolve our unity. The older pours into the younger on a journey of mutual spiritual maturity.
So, we’re making some significant changes in our high school ministry structure to foster this kind of a church culture. One of these changes is choosing to have our high school youth, grades 9 through 12, actively involved in our Sunday morning worship gatherings this fall. Instead of having a Sunday morning program exclusively for these teens, we will invite and encourage them to worship and experience fellowship in our morning services.
Here’s what this isn’t: we’re not just canceling Sunday morning youth group. Instead, we’re inviting teens to the table, to be active members of the family, to participate and share and serve. We want young people to be involved in every way, from serving in children’s ministry, to playing instruments on the worship team, to running sound in a sound booth, to being greeters and ushers in our foyer. On September 15, we’re having our first Sunday morning services with youth as full participants and worshipers in our 8:30 service.
Here’s how you can embrace this vision: come on Sundays with open eyes and open hearts, looking to pray for and build relationships with teenagers. We have a saying for our adult leaders in our youth ministry: we get to be awkward so they don’t have to. That means we get over the initial weirdness of talking with teens and choose to lovingly build relationships with them. Let’s move beyond social barriers and prayerfully initiate conversations across generations, embracing the call to tell the next generation of the glorious deeds of the Lord.
I want to create a culture that gets prevents church tumors, to live out my ministry value of whole disciples, whole church. I'm absolutely convinced that the church can and should be the community of people where young people can experience belonging, grace, encouragement, redemption, and love. I believe there won't be a generation gap in the kingdom of God; there will not be a kids' table at the banquet feast in the kingdom. So this is our experiment to foster a culture where heaven meets earth, a micro-culture where teens and adults lock arms and serve in the name of Jesus.
What do you think?