Welcoming the Youths

Youth group was a big part of my teenage years. I was saved in youth group. I experienced community and growth in the youth group. I absolutely loved how God used our youth gathering times on Wednesdays to form and shape me and to help me realize that I was His, that I was in need of His saving grace through Jesus Christ. As I reflect on on things God has used to shape who I am today, Sunday morning church gatherings stand out!

Sunday gatherings were the time when I was able to interact with those older and younger than myself. I developed some truly great and deep relationships with those older than me that I still keep in contact with today. I didn’t realize how significant those relationships would be back then. I didn’t realize how witnessing those intergenerational interactions would form and shape how I interacted with others. 

Seeing and experiencing our Sunday gatherings with folks of all ages helped me realize that this Christianity thing wasn’t just something trendy or cool. It wasn’t something that just parents force onto their kids. It wasn’t just a fad that would soon end like trendy diets (Paleo…Keto…I mean seriously, what’s next??) Sunday mornings helped me realize that Christianity was for the entire life. I needed to witness young married couples point each other toward Christ. I needed to see fathers shepherding their family. I needed to see seniors worship through song that have been steadfast in their faith for 40+ years. I needed to hear the Word of God preached and learn to listen and apply the gospel to my life. I needed to see warm, smiling faces. I needed to sit next to my church family who loved and cared for me. I needed to feel my hand almost break from shaking hands with men I respected. I needed to feel the loving embrace of those who were my grandmothers in Christ. All of this has helped form and shape my views of what the gospel lived out looks like. 

I loved our Sunday gatherings because it was a chance to be with my church family. I was warmly welcomed by grandmothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They would ask me how my week was going. They would invite me over for lunch afterwards or invite me to come hang out with their families during the week. I got to experience what a gospel-centered family looked like, both the good and the bad. 

Whether you are recently out of youth group or far from it, students need to see you live your life for Jesus. Not just from afar but relationally on Sunday mornings. I know it feels awkward to go out of your way to greet and welcome one of the students but it’s worth it. Don’t let the students just stand in the corner by themselves. Rather, greet them. Ask how they are doing. Invest in them and cheer them on at sporting events. When new families come and they have teenage students, be sure to recognize them as well. Don’t just focus on the parents. Students are also fellow image bearers of the King, whether they know it yet or not. 

I pray that you don’t just hear this as another to-do for Sunday morning. Like with everything, our motivation is not just to be nice or to add another box to check off. Why do we do this? Our motivation should be the Gospel. We have a great and mighty God who created each of us as image bearers to be in relationship with Him and with each other. Sin severs that relationship. We hide. We fear. We worry. We place ourselves above others. While we were wanting, needy, and helpless, Christ came to welcome all those who would place their faith in Him as our Savior. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He openly welcomes and invites us to know the Father and know life everlasting. He invites us to know true acceptance. This is the Gospel. This is our motivation. Christ welcomes us with open arms. As His children, we are to do the same. It’s often said before our greeting time at New City, “let us welcome others just as Christ has so lovingly welcomed us into His family.” It’s not just during that time. It’s when we’re getting coffee. It’s in between services. It’s before services. It’s after services. We welcome others because we have been so graciously welcomed into the family. We welcome because we want others to come into His family too. This includes students. The teenager off to the side who feels awkward and uncomfortable because he/she doesn’t know anyone or whose parents made them come. They need to see your smiles. They need to see your attentiveness to the sermon. They need to see you singing loudly the truths of God. Welcome and invite them in just as Christ has. I can honestly say that I would not be who I am today without God working and welcoming through His people. 

Pew Research reports that twenty-to thirty-year-olds identify with Christianity at half the rate of their parents and a quarter of the rate of their grandparents. These young adults were teens a decade or two ago, and many of them were active in church youth ministries. Many are asking what we can do to get them back into church. Maybe young adults are not actually leaving the church; they were never there to begin with.

Wright, Dave (2016). Gathering God’s People. In Cole, Cameron; Nielson, Jon (Ed.), Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry (pp. 110). Wheaton, IL: Crossway