7 Tips For Engaging Youth In Worship

David Santistevan —  — 18 Comments

From David: Today’s post is a guest post from my friend Rob Still. Rob is a veteran worship leader who has a lot of experience engaging the next generation. Today’s post is a relevant post for us all, whether old or young, helping us engage the next generation in worship. See you in the comments!

I’d like to offer some thoughts and ideas to David’s post, “How Do You Engage A Younger Generation In Worship?”

He said:

“Older worship leader, they don’t hate you. They just have a hard time with your music. … How does a 45-60 year old worship leader engage a 14 year old in worship? Is it even possible?”

Good question – When are you too old to lead worship? 

For this article, let’s discuss how it is possible to engage that 14 year old in worship. I believe it begins with a pastoral approach to youth worship ministry.

Not so long ago I passed 51. I’m no longer in youth worship as my primary ministry. However, I still connect often with teenagers, most recently this past summer leading the School of Rock Worship for students 11-17, then teaching on the mission field with teens in Romania, Serbia and Hungary.

How to Pastor Youth In Worship

I certainly don’t claim to be an “expert” in this field, but I do have many years of experience with youth worship. I hope some lessons I’ve learned will be helpful for you.

1. Teach them what the bible says about worship

Show them where the scriptures say to sing, clap, raise your hands, dance, shout, play an instrument, and bow down. Help them understand what worship is all about. This is even better if the youth pastor teaches about and models worship.

2. More is caught than taught. Be the message.

Model what you want to see. Worship passionately and fearlessly. You lead them, don’t let them lead you. Also, coach your adult leaders to set a good example of actively participating in worship.

3. Encourage a worshiping culture

Back in the day with our youth group, a passionate worship culture just seemed to be in the kids DNA, but it wasn’t always that way, and it didn’t always stay that way.

You have to be intentional. Share your heart. Teach your flock to be sensitive and love the presence of God.

Connect with the kids who have a heart for worship. Be a “good-finder”. Affirm the kids publicly when they worship expressively. “That was such a blessing to see you guys really engaged in worship …”

4. Build the youth worship team primarily with youth. This has a several benefits.

  • The most effective life impact for young people is by hands on doing not just attending services. Actively involving youth in the worship team empowers them as leaders today, not tomorrow, and builds the Kingdom.
  • It encourages youth when they see their peers leading them. It may even motivate them to get involved, learn an instrument, and join the team.
  • Teens will often feel more comfortable relating to adults closer to their age. Try to involve younger adults to help lead the youth worship ministry.
  • Finally, I recommend having a qualified adult oversee and/or lead the team for reasons of accountability, mentoring and quality control. Include other adults as guest subs or mentors, but not too many. Usually no more than 2 grown-ups.

5. Listen to the kids

Be a student of your students. Respect their input on songs and musical styles. Be aware that teenagers taste in music is not monolithic – their preferences are widely varied and they often do not agree among themselves what they like.

For example, I’ve had groups of kids who really liked Sufjan Stevens, and others who really did not like Hillsong United.

6. Encourage participation in other expressions of worship

Not everybody is into music. Offer to let kids do other art forms during “worship time” like drawing, painting, art, journaling, and poetry. Have adult leaders oversee this to offer instruction, encouragement and make sure that it’s not abused.

7. Help them connect with their roots

This always surprises me but I have teenagers saying, “We want hymns,” or “We want to use the book of common prayer.” They even appreciate the creeds. Today’s teenagers may be the smartest generation. Help them experience depth and historical connection in worship.

These ideas have been primarily about leading youth in a youth ministry context. The challenges of pastoring and leading teenagers are unique.

My experience is that these ideas work no matter what musical style is en vogue.

However, the “next generation” is a much larger demographic than just teenagers.

The challenges of connecting with 20-somethings is a different situation altogether. How do you do that? That may be another post. Let the conversation continue.

Question: What are some other ways we can effectively lead the next generation in worship? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

18 responses to 7 Tips For Engaging Youth In Worship

  1. I have recently stepping into a role where I supervise an existing youth ministry and they have absolutely no worshiping culture. I primarily design and lead a contemporary congregation in a more traditional church, and the design has left students out. While I have led for years, I have never been in a situation like this.

    I really echo your idea about building a larger worship culture. Youth need to learn “how” to worship, what proper response looks like and how worship forms them. I keep asking myself the question that if youth don’t know how to worship are we really discipling them and leading them towards Christ.

    Thanks for the thoughts and tips.

    • Hey Chad, I can relate, right now I’m helping form a contemporary worship ministry for a traditional church.

      For teens, I might try to introduce them to contexts where they see young people passionately worshiping, such as Jesus Culture or Hillsongs United videos, or attend a worship concert or make a field trip and visit another youth ministry.

      Back in the day we would worship with with other youth ministries and vice versa. Find ones that model some of the traits you would like to see.

      God bless your ministry!

  2. Incredible thought and post! Thanks Rob.
    Teaching the younger generation is SO important. We may like to mold them into what we want them to do, say, act like,etc.
    In many cases we need to take a good look at ourselves and get down to doing the right thing!
    We need to be out there: in the field where we are called to be, and teach, worship, set the example – to ALL generations!

  3. Khamille Coelho Barbosa October 25, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Awesome post! I specially like #7!

    • Thanks Khamille. Is there anything you do or would like to do to help kids connect with the roots of the faith?

      • Khamille Coelho October 26, 2011 at 9:58 am

        Well, I’m not completely sure how to answer that question.
        In our church, we have little kids 2-5 year olds that when worship starts they want their room door open so they can hear the worship and they know the lyrics of the songs and they jump when we jump and its amazing to see how kids specially are watching everything you do, and if you are a church that worships, they will worship. I think the biggest thing for kids is for them to know Who they are worshipping and Why.
        I asked a 2 year old in our church” who is your best friend?” She says ” Jesus”

  4. I totally agree with #4! Involvement is so underrated… and having teenagers leading out will help with #3 too. They will develop their own styles and ways of doing things and I guess we have to remember that’s ok.

    Another thing is to be genuine. Teenagers are pretty quick to pick up on it if someone is trying to be something they’re not. Authenticity is so important.

    I’d be really interested in a post on connecting with 20-somethings too.

  5. I feel sort of inadequate talking about leading youth in worship. :) I’m from a country church with an average attendance of about 70 people — with an average age of about 55.

    We only have a few youth. Our oldest member is 89.

    But whether we’re singing to Wesley on the piano, or with Tomlin over the iPod, we love to raise the roof for Jesus.

    This is, perhaps, the critical piece for any of us — whether we’re leading or following in worship: “Worship passionately and fearlessly.”

    Thanks for your thoughtful post here.

    • Ha ha – sorry I almost misunderstood “We only have a few youth. Our oldest member is 89.” – I thought the oldest member of the youth was 89 – Could not get the average of 55 working on that though. :D
      Must be my Afrikaans background – everything in context!

    • Thanks Jennifer, it any context we’re creating memories for our youth. So they’re going to remember raising the roof for Jesus, and that’s a good thing.

      Especially if your oldest youth is 89 :)

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  7. Love this! Thank you so much for sharing. I am currently in charge of re-building a youth worship team and did a search on youth worship…so glad this came up. It’s true, this may be one of the most intelligent generations ever and they’re ready for more depth than my generation. It’s a sobering blessing and challenge to get to coach these kids in their lives of worship!

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