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[Elephants In The Youth Room] Do We Have To Sing?

 —  February 4, 2014 — 12 Comments


My friend Shawn Harrison and I have been tackling what we see as the “Elephants In The Youth Room.”  We had planned on only really putting out four posts on the issue, however, we have been surprised at the traction they have gained. Especially with the conversations from, “The Great Game Debate,” I thought there was one more topic I needed to address.

Last week I had an interesting conversation with my 14-year-old daughter. I asked her, “If you were to set up programming for a youth group, what would it look like?”  

She said she would nix games, although she might have an opening activity or object lesson to draw everyone in. There would be a “worship time,” followed by preaching, and then small groups.

Then I asked her why she would set it up like this. “Well you know I love to connect to God through singing, so that’s why I would have an opening worship time. I also think it helps quiet our hearts.” She went on, “For us introverts, preaching is a good thing. We can listen and learn. We don’t really have to interact with anyone. Then small groups is where we get to ask questions and really go deep.”

Then she sat and thought for a second. (I thought we were going to change topics.)  “You know now that I think about it, the worship time really depends on whether or not there is a decent worship team that works.  If it’s just some guy with a guitar who can’t sing, then that’s just distracting and awkward.”  

We dove into this for a few moments. She has tried a number of youth programs in addition to the ones I run. It gives her a chance to experience a setting beyond where her parents are the leaders and gives her the chance to “just go to youth group.”

As she thought about the different places she has tried, attended at the invite of a friend or even participated in she noted something,“It’s like there is a formula for how you do youth group, and you know it doesn’t seem to work for everyone.”  There were people who weren’t great at preaching, and it lost her attention. Perhaps, that’s just a personality issue.

However, she had attended a couple of groups where the “worship time” was just plain painful. She posed the question, “If it doesn’t work for a group, Do we have to sing?” One guy sang alone and was always off key. In another group, they played musical tracks and that felt weird to her.

So here it is. Does there HAVE to be the “youth group” that includes a guitar and singing if you don’t have the capacity?  I think if you have a student run worship band or a leader who enjoys to offer this, it might be different. However, who decided that singing is what makes for great youth programming?

I think some students love it and others hate it. In my own home, my boy would love it if there were only small groups and that’s it.  Is it a way to include different types of kids, or do we offer it because “that’s what you do?”

Does it exclude our “unchurched” students as they have no clue what the song is or how to follow along, especially if there isn’t even a PowerPoint?

Could there be “seasons” in your ministry when you have no one to lead that you get rid of this time?

We call it “worship,” however, I think we all know that isn’t always what it is. Worship goes far beyond a time that includes music. If no one is actually “worshiping” during this time could/should you nix it?

Did you get rid of this time already? If yes, what do you do?

I think my daughter’s question is a valid one, “If it isn’t working,  Do we have to sing?”  A better question might be, “Do we have to follow the youth group formula at all?”

What do you think?



Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix


Leneita Fix is the Director of Ministry Development for Aslan Youth Ministries, a family focused urban ministry serving Monmouth County New Jersey and Haiti. She has been working in some form of youth and family ministry for almost 22 years. In addition she has launched the coaching and resource organization, Front Line Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace serving those who work with families living in survival mode. The early years were spent in camp ministry, suburban and rural youth groups. With the Lord’s moving the last 17 of those years have been spent ministering in three different urban areas to primarily unchurched families (New Jersey, Virginia, Florida back to New Jersey). Her responsibilities have included Bible based program direction for children ages 5-18, curriculum writing, staff training and recruiting, discipleship, resource creation and speaking to national audiences. Her passion is to raise up workers in practical, relationship-driven methods while remaining in the trenches with the youth and families she loves. Her goal is to help others understand every student living in a survival mindset can and will be transformed in Christ. One of her greatest joys is serving in ministry as a family with her husband three wonderful children, and her niece. Simply she resides among her friends in the city just living life as a family that loves being there. You can contact her at leneitafix@aslanyouth.org.

12 responses to [Elephants In The Youth Room] Do We Have To Sing?

  1. I live in this world constantly with our middle school ministry. Most of the time I wouldn’t call it great “worship.” My biggest fear of losing it is probably the assumption that I’m just passing the problem up to our high school ministry. Until our adult services open up the definition of “corporate worship” I feel some responsibility to prepare our students to worship this way so they can become adult members of church down the road. Often that preparation is painful.

    If anyone’s dropped this version of worship time from their youth programming, I’d love to hear what they think and have seen about long term ramifications.

    • I agree with Leneita’s daughter in questioning whether we have to do it if it doesn’t work. For us, it doesn’t work more often than it does. I’d love to see all the hands in the air worshiping God with freedom and abandon, but that’s not us. At least not right now. We have a youth worship team that is in the regular rotation of worship teams that lead in “big church” and it works there, but it just doesn’t for the teens. We have a youth council that regularly evaluates everything and they wholly endorse doing a game to get things going with some song times sprinkled in here and there.

      At this time I don’t feel a responsibility to prepare the kids for worship with the adults, not because it’s necessarily the right attitude, but because they worship with the adults on Sunday mornings. (Also, I can only take so much of the blank stares during song time…and to prepare the kids to play well every week! Ugh!)

      As far as consequences go, the one I can think of is that I think the teens don’t listen to as much worship music as they might if we had a great team that was leading every week. As far as other consequences, I’m not seeing them right now. We are launching new worship leaders into our church through the youth team that leads in “big church” and we have graduates who are studying to become worship leaders. Maybe we would be more fruitful in that area if we had songs during youth time, but that’s pure speculation.

      • Leneita Fix

        Tim, I think knowing your group and letting the youth council speak into the time is the perfect thing. When you are just getting stares is that even “worship” at all. I don’t think so. As I mentioned to Steve, when it has worked is when there has been someone passionate about it. If there are singing in with the adults- I don’t think they have to with the youth time. We don’t sing as adults at everything at church- and it sounds like you are very fruitful.

    • Leneita Fix

      Zac, I hear your heart that you would like to offer worship. I actually did drop the worship time from our youth programming, for exactly the reasons I talked about, there wasn’t anyone called to use their giftings (students or adults) in musical worship. We talk about worship often and how music can be a part of that. They also do participate in mulitgenterational corporate worship.

  2. Amber Cassady

    I work with a small church plant of mostly college students. Our one guy who led the music the last year is no longer able to do so. We are trying to coming up with an alternative. In the meantime, we havn’t really had a time for musical worship when we gather. It certainly has challenged ideas of the formula for what a church “service” looks like. We are trusting God to lead and direct how our gatherings look but it doesn’t mean we arn’t challenged by figuring out what is tradition and what is Biblical for our times together. Been an interesting but good journey to go down during this time. Thanks for sharing Leneita!

    • Leneita Fix

      Amber- when we look at the Biblical model of everyone coming together in 1 Cor. 14:26. One is supposed to bring a song, another will teach, another bring a word from the Lord. It is to bring the gifts we have- not to manufacture time together. I think it is a time to focus on the Lord and bring what we have.

  3. I think that the question of a praise & worship music time in any youth group should be based on the gifts and talents that Dad (God) has given the leaders of the group. If I didn’t have someone who was gifted in that area I wouldn’t try to “force” a time of singing simply because “that’s what every youth group does.”

    In our middle school group we have students who love to sing and a leader who can lead, so we try and do it as often as we can, although we don’t laways do it every week. And since we usually use the singing time as the start of the worship time, we introduce it as such and tell the students that if they don’t know the song or do not want to sing, then they can just listen if they want to. Even though we have song sheets, that takes the pressure off of a new student who might be new to the whole youth group scene and/or unfamiliar with some of the songs.

  4. Our senior high group is a mix of church and unchurched kids in the inner city. We have stopped musical worship because it was too awkward. Some kids would make light of the time and others would be intimidated by the naysayers. We do an intro video or something and then break into small groups.
    I miss the music but most dont. Are there any ideas on how to reintroduce music in a way all can enjoy?

    • Leneita Fix

      Steve, I have the same experience with inner city ministry. I really think it depends if you have someone whose passion is to lead musical worship and that we don’t get caught up in in having it to be a particular “style” of music. When it is just about needing to create a time it doesn’t work. However, I have had three different leaders who were passionate and so they brought that passion to the group and raised up student leaders in the process. One did acoustic guitar worship, one keyboard based Gospel, one put together a rock type band. All of them in the inner city. If you have someone whose passionate about this then let them step up and bring some students to lead as well.

  5. While I don’t think it HAS to be a part of any ministry, I do think it is a great opportunity for students to explore their gifts and talents within the context of ministry rather than just secular opportunities. Plus, for those students, it can build a bond. However, I am obviously speaking mainly about student-let “worship.” Strictly adult-let singing during youth service would be a tougher topic for me.

    • Leneita Fix

      Student led worship is the best way to have it during youth time. I think the problem is that sometimes we try to do this when we can’t find adults to inspire the students.

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