I’m fresh off worshiping with GNJ Next Generation Ministry at the Pinelands Center the past two weeks. We laughed, we cried, we sang loud, we prayed, we read scripture… it was incredible. And while I signed on to be the worship leader and minister to the campers, they taught me a lot too.
Each week of camp was very different. Week #1 was high school students. It wasn’t a huge group, so we worshiped in a circle with acoustic guitar and keyboard. It was a nice, intimate community feel for worship. Week #2 saw around 80 middle school students plus a big team of volunteers and leaders. The second week we pulled out the big sound system, lights and electric guitars to capture the “IGNITE experience.”
Each week I watched students come to life in worship. The instrumentation or group size didn’t matter. I was inspired with how our campers sang, shared their stories and engaged with the messages and each other. Worship with the next generation of disciples can happen many different ways, settings and music styles. However, I did learn a lot about what does connect with students when it comes to worship.
- Passion Connects
When leaders sing loudly, students sing loudly. If, as the leader, I am excited and engaged in worship, students will be as well. When the speaker or music lacks passion or seems not to care, the campers won’t care either. As leaders, we must go first. If our churches aren’t engaging students in worship – we must take a look at our passion level. Are we still in love with Jesus? Are we still willing to offer our voices, minds and hearts in worship as a sacrifice of praise? If we are, students will connect.
- Storytelling Connects
The world and culture around us are full of master storytellers. Movies provide more sensory stimulation now than ever. News, media and advertising are all full of stories and narratives to capture our attention. As preachers, teachers and others who share the message of God with students, we can’t just share facts or opinions. Students long to be invited into a great story. The good news is that we’re familiar with the greatest story ever! Share that, and your story, and students will connect.
- The Message of Jesus Connects
Our world is longing desperately for something more; this is especially true of students. They’re facing bullies at school. They’re unsure about the future of their neighborhoods, communities and friends. They feel isolated and alone. The love of God and life of Jesus offer hope to all of us in times of difficulty and trial. Several important studies in the past five years have shown that while young people may not readily connect with the idea of church or religion, they love Jesus. Jesus came to change the world, to show the way of life, to point to something greater than all of us. 2,000 years later, Jesus just keeps capturing the hearts of students and young people.
So I’m home now, and I’m fired up. Worship changes people because God is present and moves. God moved in my life these weeks too, but not just through music, prayer, lyrics and messages. God moved through the lives, leadership and worship of students – and taught me a lot.
I’d love to hear how you’ve seen passion, storytelling, and the message of Jesus connect with young people in your church or community. Or maybe you hope to grow in one of these areas. Share your story in the comments! We’re in this together.