Youth Sunday – The one Sunday a year when youth takeover an entire Sunday morning worship (planning, singing, ushering, preaching, etc), to share about a recent experience such as a mission trip or multi-day conference.
In cross-generational congregations, it is often said that every Sunday is “Youth Sunday.” As with the adults in the congregation, young people are always just as free and encouraged to serve in worship through musical leadership, communion and worship assistance, ushering, acolyting, and even preaching. We operate this way simply because youth are not the future of the Church, they are the church, too.
Giving young people the opportunity to lead in worship all year round is one of the most important ministries we can facilitate, but with out designated “Youth” Sundays, when do students who’ve participated in life-changing shared-experiences tell the stories traditionally reserved for the youth Sunday platform?
How else will the congregation hear about the connections a student made with someone they served on a mission trip?
How else will the congregation hear about the pivotal messages spoken to a student’s heart at a youth conference?
Although youth Sundays provide opportunities for the few, more-confident young people to speak publicly about their experiences, they allow congregations to hear only a fraction of the many rich stories from the event and give only a select sample of students the opportunity for faith storytelling. Blowing up youth Sundays allowed our congregation to come up with new and creative ways to get more of these stories by more students than ever before.
After our return from the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, Good Shepherd designated the entire Sunday school hour, 9:30am-10:30am, on Reformation Sunday to Houston stories. All Sunday school classes, 4th grade and up, gathered together in the Fellowship Hall, around round tables, to hear from our high school students and adult participants.
Before the participants began sharing, an excerpt from the book InterGenerate on “things to keep in mind when making space for faith storytelling” was read aloud to the group. This did a few things. It reminded the listeners to listen, not to respond but to understand. It also gave the storytellers permission to share their stories even if the story feels ordinary. “They don’t need to be about dramatic life-changing events in order to have value.”
The final “thing” the author wrote, that I shared, was that “storytellers need varying supports.” Standing alone at the pulpit on a youth Sunday just won’t work for every student, many of whom have great stories begging to be told. So here’s what our time together in cross-generational community looked like, framed by the solid points Karen DoBoer made in Intergenerate.
Not everyone feels comfortable telling their story
Especially in front of a congregation. With public speaking being American’s number one fear, I can’t imagine many adults, let alone students, who would feel comfortable in this situation. And on top of that, talking about a subject as personal as faith takes unbelievable vulnerability.
Of the twenty-eight youth and adults from Good Shepherd who went to the Youth Gathering, around half participated in the storytelling event. Though some were unable to attend, I assume there were at least a few no-shows who were uncomfortable even with the idea of speaking at the cross-gen event. And that’s OK. But we did have fourteen youth and adults share their stories in a warm, intimate setting. That’s a big win.
Some may prefer to write [their story] down and read it or be interviewed while seated
During our time together, we seated 1-2 Youth Gathering participants at tables with 6-7 others. We served breakfast-y snacks, juice, and coffee which always make for a more relaxed environment. Additionally, we laid out smooth stones on the table that were sent home at the end of our session. Having a smooth stone to hold in ones hand while sharing, as well as sitting in small groups, definitely helped our students and adults in their storytelling.
Holding a visual aid or other link to the story can be helpful
In preparation for this event, a PowerPoint slideshow was created to help kick-off stories at tables. The PowerPoint had four slides for visual aid, each with a question as well as a collage of photos submitted by the group. The first question asked was “What did a typical day look like?” When it projected on the screen along with the various photos, memories were immediately sparked.
“We drank SO much Starbucks…”
“We rode the light rail every day! It was packed…”
“There was a lot of sitting around. We played A LOT of cards…”
This slide was a great icebreaker. The three questions that followed had the Youth Gathering participants share about the evening mass gatherings, the impact the Youth Gathering had on Houston and the impact the Youth Gathering had on them as individuals. Having a visual aid was a worth the work putting it together.
Frameworks such as a template for storytelling and time limit may also be appreciated.
The participants were given six minutes to respond to each of the four questions – not too much time, but enough to not feel rushed. If they felt they had responded adequately to a question before the six minutes was up, the table could ask questions. Because we only had an hour together and all of tables could’ve kept talking beyond the six minutes, I kept a close watch on my timer, making sure to called time so we could move on with the next questions.
Making space for cross-generational faith storytelling has mutually-beneficial advantages beyond what a traditional youth Sunday can offer. Listeners hear rich stories of faith that otherwise may not have been heard, students practice sharing their faith in a welcome environment, and adult Youth Gathering participants share their witness to investing in the lives of young people. Connections are made, relationships and community are grown.
How do you make space for faith storytelling in your congregation? How do you make every Sunday “youth” Sunday?