I see two key questions facing most churches, especially smaller ones, today:
- Why are our teens leaving the church in droves?
- How can we reinvigorate our worship? How do we restore our sense of awe and wonder at God, and connect our worship with our daily lives?
Why are our teens leaving? In large part because we’ve forgotten to keep showing them that they belong to the church, that they’re important, and that they have real contributions to make — not in the future but now! (Read “Growing Young”, published recently by the Fuller Youth Institute, which examines what leads teens to leave and what leads them to stay in churches.)
What would reinvigorate our worship? Surely the passion, immediacy, and relevance of teen-led worship? Yes, it may be less than perfect. And of course adults still have many key roles to play. But properly equipped, teens can create and lead amazing worship.
How do I know this? I learned from my experience at an annual event that is designed specifically to equip teens for engagement in worship. I’m talking about Animate, a five-day summer program in worship leadership for teenagers and their adult mentors. It is put on by the Samford University Center for Worship and the Arts on their beautiful campus in Birmingham, AL. (By the way, Samford has a close affiliation with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.) How does it work, and what does it teach?
In a series of classes, discussions, field trips, practical exercises, and ultimately group preparation and leading of a worship service, students learn:
- What worship is, and what it has to do with them
- The role of music, spoken word, visual arts, media, and architectural space in worship
- Putting together a balanced service that will engage the whole congregation
- Focusing on God, not the leaders, to bring Him the glory
- Teamwork in worship
- … and much more
Mentors who go with them join some of their sessions, but also have their own discussions. Last year was led by Fuller Youth Institute director and co-author of “Growing Young,” Brad Griffin. This coming year will be led by Abigail Visco Rusert, director of the Institute for Youth Ministry (IYM) at Princeton Theological Seminary.
The highlight of the week is the last full day in which groups of approximately ten teenagers, with a Samford student coach, plan a 15-minute worship service around a given theme, Bible passage, venue, and set of limited resources. Last year I sat in on most of them either in preparation of simply worshiping under their leadership. I can’t describe the thrill — their passion, their creativity, their true leadership so that I couldn’t help but worship with them. We need more of this!
Does it last? That’s up to you — the churches that send them and the mentors who go with them. All I can say is that the two teens who went with me last year are still growing. They are actively applying what they learned in their own personal worship, and growing in confidence in the chapel worship they lead at school.
Animate 2018 will take place June 25-29, 2018 on Samford University’s campus. Register your group today; you won’t regret it!