by Kris Lott
Each year I, like many of you, am handed the reins to the worship services for YOUTH SUNDAY. This has become one of my favorite Sundays of the year at my church. While we try to incorporate youth and children in weekly worship throughout the year, this is a great opportunity for the youth to share their faith in front of the congregation. Youth Sundays are a chance for the youth to plan, prepare, and completely lead worship. Yes, the youth sometimes speak too fast, botch a reading, or skip a whole section, but they are up in front being leaders and they get to feel ownership in the church. Most often the Sunday is amazingly rewarding for the youth as well as the congregation. Over the years, we have developed the following tips for designing and implementing the worship.

Tips for planning and implementing Youth Sunday

1. Start with a theme

About two months out, we sit down with our seniors and worship leadership team, and we discuss possible themes and ideas for the service. We analyze each suggested theme in how we would incorporate its aspects into a worship service. Our themes often spill out of our programming from throughout the year. Once we pick a theme, everything else can move forward. We divide up all the parts of worship and the youth write or find material based on the theme. The Call to Worship, Affirmation of Faith, prayers, children’s time, scriptures, hymns, and/or benediction can all be used thematically.

2. Remember that it’s not about you

It is important to remember that we are not talking about “Youth Minister Sunday.” Try to avoid the temptation of putting yourself in the preaching slot on Youth Sunday. Remind the youth that their sharing does not have to be a 20 minute+ hermeneutical response to the lectionary. This is a great time to push your youth to grow and share their faith with the whole church. We have presented sermons many different ways. We’ve had two youth do one sermon together as a conversation. Several of our teens have created and shared a song or a piece of art based on the theme. This year, we worked in five different short meditations throughout the service. Let your youth shine and they will cast a glowing light on you and your leadership.

3. Use their gifts

We focus on helping the youth see how they are gifted and how each of them can use their gifts for worshiping God. We try to feature as many different gifts as possible throughout the service from interpretive dance, to special music (of all kinds), to art, drama, and readings. We work together with our entire youth group to make sure they know where they are gifted. It is your job to then find ways to use these gifts and engage the youth into the worship. WARNING: Don’t make this worship service into a talent show, but let your youth use their skills to glorify God.

4. Be creative

We really challenge our youth during the planning times to fully engage with the theme. Youth Sunday is a great opportunity to get out of the “normal Sunday morning worship box.” Once our service focused on “noises in our lives” and we finished the last ten minutes in silence. Another year, our theme was “The Kingdom of God is Backwards,” based on the Beatitudes, so we did the entire service backwards. Your creativity does not have to be drastic. Make the service work for what you have to work with. If you have five youth who really want to speak, change your regular worship order to space them out throughout the service and create a better flow. The congregation always has responded very positively toward our youth worship services because each time the worships are unique and genuine, and that makes them meaningful and memorable. WARNING: Make sure your senior pastor and worship team know about your plans. Our ministerial staff always help us work through the bulletin and all the elements of the service, so they know of anything unusual (and the reasoning for doing it) before we actually do anything.

5. Practice

This one cannot be said enough. We hold several practices of the worship before the Sunday. Everyone has their reading, prayers, or sermons printed out (and I have an extra copy). The youth who are giving the sermon meet weekly on Wednesday nights to work on their talks, and we make an effort to connect the sermons together. We break down the theme and have each sermon make a different point on the theme. WARNING: Make your sermonizers use a script or (at the minimum) a very detailed outline. I want to know exactly what they are going to say before they say it: no winging it on the sermons!

6. Trust

Youth Sunday can be a hectic day for a youth minister. I have learned not to worry about how long the service is or if someone messed up his or her readings. Inevitably, someone will be sick or absent and you might have to rearrange roles at the last minute. If you are fully prepared and practiced then the youth will take care of the rest. If I know my youth are prepared, once the service starts, I find myself truly engaged in the worship.
Regardless of what type worship style your church uses, Youth Sunday can be a wonderful chance for your youth to share their faith in their own way. Every year, I find our congregation excited and recharged by what these teens have challenged them to do. Any worship service that leaves the entire congregation energized is worth your time and energy.
I also find that it is easier to get the youth to serve throughout the year in different aspects of worship after they have gone through the process above and have learned how to prepare and lead worship by themselves. You’ll undoubtedly be proud and moved by what your youth can offer to your congregation through leading worship.
Kris Lott is the Director of Youth Ministries at Calvary United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. He was a member of the inaugural class of the Center for Youth Ministry Training.