Don't Blame The Students: 3 Questions To Ask When Teenagers Aren't Engaging In Worship
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As I engage with Student Ministry Worship content online, I’m bothered by a common theme I keep seeing. Worship leaders are worried about students being disconnected and distracted during worship. This is not the concerning part. The concerning part comes when they proceed to blame culture, technology, or the students for the lack of engagement. They go on and on about the difficulty of leading worship in this age of Snapchat, TikTok, etc. Why are we surprised that students aren’t coming to our student services excited to engage in worship? Believe me; I understand the frustration with the lack of excitement and engagement from your students. It can feel very defeating to spend time preparing both musically and spiritually to not be met with the same desire and enthusiasm that you bring to a worship set. But instead of moving from frustration into blame, shame, or giving up altogether, here are three questions to ask when your teenagers aren’t engaging in worship.
1. Do I Have Healthy Expectations?
Healthy expectations are extremely important in all areas of life, and in this context of worship, it is no different. We need to be careful to examine our expectations before rushing to blame technology
and/or culture for students being disconnected. I want to let you in on a little secret. Blaming the culture and the technology of today will not help your students connect with God in worship.
The truth is, as much as it may feel like a new problem (can you even remember a world before the Internet?), it isn’t a new problem. There were, and there will always be, distractions that keep students from connecting in worship.
Don’t get me wrong, the lack of student engagement is real. Technology isn’t bringing the world together the way we were promised it would. That being said, your energy is better spent focusing on preparing your teams, both spiritually and musically, and creating environments that set up students to be able to engage in worship. Focusing on the negatives, or why they aren’t worshipping, is taking energy away from actually connecting them in worship.
2. Am I In Need Of A Reality Check?
We live in truly extraordinary times. There are so many great resources available to the “modern” worship leader, i.e., books, training videos, blogs, and conferences. Ah yes, conferences; I love a great worship conference. It is amazing to be at a conference where everyone is excited to worship, pumped to break out of their normal life pattern, and focus on God. But let’s be honest, conferences aren’t normal life. Conference or even camp and retreat worship are not the filters that should color or worship worldview as we go into our weekly services. Even for adults who have (or should have) more mature spiritual lives, this isn’t a reality for every weekend service.
As we plan for and evaluate our weekly Sunday or mid-week gathering, it may be healthy to start
with the assumption that students are going to be disinterested at best. If you are inviting ALL students to be a part of a student service, then you must be fully aware of the fact that there is a large disparity between the very passionate and the very disengaged. The healthy place to start is to realize that no matter where they fall on the engagement spectrum, you HAVE to earn the right of their time and energy. If you start with the assumption that students should just want to worship, you are going to be very disappointed with the lack of response.
3. How Do I Get Out Of This Dry Season?
Whenever I find myself in a “dry” season of engagement, I know it is time to take action. I often start by gathering a specific group of seven to nine students together. To be more specific, I bribe them with donuts, ask them all kinds of questions, and actively listen. I typically do this multiple times with multiple groups over an extended period of time. I typically come away from these sessions encouraged and with some great insights on what I could do to increase engagement during our worship services. But the overarching thing that I am reminded of through these conversations is just how long it’s been since I was a teenager and how I need to be intentional when it comes to listening and learning what it’s like to be a teenager today.
When engagement is lean and students are distracted, pray. Then, start asking questions. Ask students, ask volunteers, and if you are blessed enough to have other student staff working with you; ask them. Get as much healthy feedback as you can. Some of it will be simple things like lighting, volume, song selection, etc. Other feedback will be not so simple and will take a lot of prayer and a lot of time. If you are in the middle of a “dry” season, I’m praying for you. God will give you the strength and understanding you need to find a breakthrough.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What are you doing in your ministry to better engage and excite students about worship?
- Are you currently in a “dry” engagement season? Have you been through a “dry” season?
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