My eldest son is months away from being an adult. I recently logged my 9,400th hour volunteering with youth through Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and our church youth groups. So, one might think I have some idea what youth want these days. However, the last few weeks have proved that wrong, as some youth, including my own children, surprised me a little. Here is what they reminded me:
Youth want a deep experience. You might think they come to church just to hang out with their friends. Or, you might think they want to read the Bible quickly to check it off and move on. I asked my children what they would like to see in our youth group and Bible studies at home. They said they would like to us to go deeper! They’ve read and heard the same stories over and over. They want to know more, learn something different. Our church is already working on things in this area. Now, as the spiritual leader of our family, I need to figure out how to do this at home.
Youth want to be productive. Our Boy Scout troop developed a pattern for meetings. We spend the first and third week working on advancement. We spend the second week practicing basic Scout skills. We spend the fourth week having pure fun, playing games. The boy leaders in the troop just held their annual planning meeting to decide what to do different next year. Top on the list was to replace the pure fun meeting with something more productive! They still want to have fun, but they want it to have a purpose. So, our fourth week will now be competitions to reinforce what they practiced in the second week.
Youth want to serve their community. Our family waited too long to sign up for Metropolitan Ministries this year. So, the only opportunity left was to hang out for an hour, just kind of guiding people around. All three of my children were bummed, asking, “Why can’t we go for half the day and really do something, like we did last year?” I didn’t realize they were so dedicated to serving. We’ll have to remember to sign up earlier next year.
Youth want to help other youth. Our Girl Scout troop had to pick a service project for their Journey program. They could have picked anything. They could have made it easy. However, they chose to put something together to really make a difference and help other youth transition into middle school! They originally challenged themselves to develop an elaborate program in our public schools. We had to scale that down a bit and change to more of a seminar setting. Nonetheless, they’re really onto something, as the girls they spoke to said it was quite helpful.
Youth want to be sincere and reverent. For Christmas, our family had to choose between a high-energy, contemporary worship service and a calmer, more traditional communion service. We chose the first, thinking our children would enjoy it more. The service opened with music that felt like our own Tran-Siberian Orchestra and just got better from there. My eldest and I thought it might be the best service we have ever seen. My two middle schoolers agreed that they “liked” it, but they quickly followed up by saying it didn’t feel right. They thought it would be more appropriate to celebrate the birth of our Savior with more sincerity and reverence. So, it sounds like we’ll be attending the traditional communion service next year.
Youth want to give. Early in the shopping season, my wife and I pondered giving each of our children a donation to a global charity. However, funds were tight this year, and we decided to move forward with the usual gifts. On Christmas day, long after the presents were open, I half-joked with them, “Yeah, we almost got you each a donation to a global charity instead of one of your regular gifts. What would you have thought of that?” I expected them to half-heartedly say that could be nice. But, all three of them, in unison, said, “Now, that would have been awesome!” Rest assured we noted that for next year.
Of course, I actually knew some of these things to some degree, just not to the extent that I have seen over the last few weeks. Even then, if I looked beyond my children and scout troops, maybe I could have seen these points. Many youth at our church sign up for service retreats, probably for these same reasons. So, I suppose these are just a few more examples that help me, and maybe a few others, keep in mind what youth want.