How can churches appeal to teenagers?

Blessing asks: What are some of the things the church does that teenagers like.

Hi Blessing –

What an interesting question to ask a dog!  I do know a few churches that do “animal blessings days,” but otherwise we usually aren’t allowed in those gorgeous buildings!  (Though from outside, I can see that so many of the stained-glass windows have pictures of the great figures of that religion’s history tending sheep, caring for other animals, etc… Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?!).

My simple answer to you is that teenagers like what they like, and don’t like what they don’t like.  I’ve got loads and loads of questions and answers on this site about those issues, and they don’t even scratch the surface of teenage complexity.  The history of religion is so deep and enormous that I promise you, churches have done everything that teenagers like and dislike, over the last few millennia – especially those churches that have managed to last over time.

But that’s really not answering your question, is it?  The best I can do is to try to throw a few really broad generalities, about teenagers, in here and point out how a church can get those right or wrong.



1)    Teenagers like direction, but hate being told what to do!  They want to think for themselves, and feel empowered in so doing.  Because of this, we see some teens absolutely exploding with Spirit, spreading the joyous word of the religion they’re experiencing, often in a way that rebels against their parents, even if they’re all part of the same church (either by being more conservative or dogmatic, or more free-form).  Of course we also see teens pull away from the rules and strictures of religion, refusing to accept the control of ancient laws.  So I’d argue that the more a church lets teens experience and feel themselves thinking for themselves, the better.

2)    Teenagers often get politicized.  A church can help teenagers find causes they believe in, with that, yes, self-righteous fire that teens so love to own, and much good has been done over time by this!  That church can also tell teenagers what to think, demand blind adherence to a political view, and even tell them who to vote for in elections.  This will appeal to some teenagers who are looking for clarity and direction, and offend and infuriate those who are working to define themselves.

3)    Teens are Apocalyptic!  Between their discovery that their parents and society are deeply flawed, their lack of a sense of future time (which I’ve discussed in other posts in depth), and their enormous passions, every generation of teenagers tends to think they’ll be the last, and that the world is a disastrous doomed mess.  In the Christian religion, you’ll find that most teens, especially boys, enjoy the Book of Revelation more than anything else in the Bible, because “it’s so cool” and it fits their concerns.  If a church feeds this mindset with understanding and compassion, it can help those kids feel better about their fears and give them hopes for the afterlife.  If a church instead feeds it with fear-based demagoguery, it can help lead to young people who act to bring on apocalyptic actions, as we see in terrorists, mass-suicidal cults, and apparently in the abject horror that just happened in Norway.

4)    News Flash – teens think about sex, a lot!  They’re excited by it, they’re terrified of it, they’re curious about it, and they want control over these feelings.  A church can give teenagers a sense of purpose in their sexuality, or a place to hide out and not grow up for a while, both which feed teens’ desires.  It can also be condemning of their feelings, or shaming of their senses of self, and in so doing ruin any chance of them feeling good about both themselves and their religion.

5)    And a last one, Blessing… teens love music!  Today, in the age of the iPod, they’re more surrounded by it than ever before.  Of course, until about 200 years ago, churches were the biggest source of most music we had.  But today, there’s no reason churches can’t continue to help provide “soundtracks” to adolescent lives.  Churches can have parties where they play pop music that fits their values; they can put up musical shows starring their young members; and of course they can teach their young people great timeless religious music as well as making opportunities for those youth to create their own new songs.

Again, Blessing, my answer is simple:  Look at what teenagers like, and feed that.  But do it with a sensitivity to their needs and their development into adulthood, more than just the desires of the church.  And if you do, you will truly be doing the Good Work you want, and your own soul will soar.

(Oh one more:  If your church offers some sort of communion, or other wine-based ritual… they tend to love that too!  Especially if that’s the only place they can get a legal taste!)


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