What to Do When the Elders of the Church Ignore… | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
May 2016

What to Do When the Elders of the Church Ignore Young People

By Kelly Peterson-Cruse

Talk to the Hand:
What to Do When the Elders of the Church Ignore Young People

It’s an age old problem within the church. Young people are separated and often ignored in the life of the church and by its members. I most often hear “I can’t relate or I don’t speak teenage!” So let me get this straight: You send young people off to their own “youth room,” often removing them from worship, for their own separate program outside of the ministry of the church? Their main interaction happens with their youth leaders, sometimes a pastor, and the only time the congregation sees them or interacts with them is when they are fundraising or at the Christmas program, and you wonder why they are ignored and people “can’t relate”?

The key to inclusiveness and healthy, positive interaction between the older church members and your youth is relationships. Youth have SO much, TOO much information.

What they need are real and true relationships.

While this might seem like a daunting and impossible task (I know you’re thinking “you don’t know MY church”), there are some simple, intentional actions you can take to bridge the gap between your youth and your church members.

According to the Search Institute’s work on the 40 Assets, those kids who are engaged in positive, intentional relationships with adults where they feel support, empowerment, boundaries, expectations, and constructive use of their time (which includes time spent in a religious community) are significantly less likely to engage in high risk behavior, and more likely to succeed in their school and personal relationships and achievements. (Integrating Assets into Congregations, James Conway- 2000 Search Institute)

Could you:

  • Have members of your congregation start supporting your youth by attending their extra-curricular activities (band performances, sporting events, debate, drama performances etc.) or acknowledge and have them interact with those in attendance during fellowship hour?
  • Find members of your congregation that have had interesting careers or life events, and invite them as guest speakers to your youth group? (when I did this I found an Ex-NFL player, a NASA scientist, a traveler that had been to every continent). Prep both your youth and your speaker so it is not a silent room of awkwardness.
  • Consider a formal retreat or training on asset building. Start with teaching your adults to ask open ended questions to your youth, asking them to see youth as contributors and identifying how they could contribute to the life of the church beyond set-up and clean-up and once a year youth service.
  • Find ministries within your church with which you can connect youth. (I had our shawl ministry teach my group to knit and they did a joint project knitting helmet liners for the troops).
  • Encourage the development of Bible studies or book groups that could include youth.
  • Ask your UMW and UMM to plan an activity that they could include youth? (baseball game, craft day, formal tea, etc.)
  • Ask for NON parent households to be the hosting house if your youth group has a progressive dinner? They have a chance to get to know a member; the member might be delighted to get to know the youth.
  • Find ways to include youth into worship, work projects, cooking, etc.
  • Have a youth co-chair a seasonal event (toy drive, Easter egg hunt etc.)
  • Have the youth hold a computer class or other digital workshop for older members of the congregation? (THIS was huge at my church).
  • Together, read “One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church” by Sam Halverson and have a joint discussion with both youth and adults on how to create change?

The point is, change will not occur unless you help your church look at youth through a different lens and create intentional change towards intergenerational relationships.