As a youth pastor, I’m glad that youth ministries provide wonderful, exciting opportunities for students to be brought into community, encouraged in their discipleship, and engaged with the Word of God. At the same time, there are times when the offerings of student ministries can sometimes seem to be competing with the corporate gathering on Sunday mornings.
While I desire that what we offer for students is a quality, engaging experience, I fear that if students were to only come to youth activities on Sunday morning and skip going to “Big Church,” it would ultimately be spiritually harmful. I hope, therefore, to make a case for taking your teenager to “Big Church.”
1. It is pictured in Scripture: While there is no explicit mandate to bring your kids to “Big Church,” we have an idea as to what the corporate gatherings might have looked like in the early church. In both Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3, Paul specifically addresses children. This means that he would have expected children (and by extension, teenagers) to be present during the reading of his letter, and thus, the corporate worship service. When we bring our kids to the corporate gathering, we are continuing a practice that existed in the New Testament churches.
2. It gives a fuller view of what the church is: The local congregation is a body of believers made up of all kinds of people—young and old, rich and poor, from all different backgrounds, vocations, and more, all gathered around the Lord Jesus. Bringing our teenagers into the corporate worship each Sunday serves them by helping them see that their church is made up of not just teens, but a variety of ages and stages.
3. It allows the students to participate in all the activities the church is called to: As a local congregation, we are instructed to engage in a lot of activities. We are called to sing, hear the word preached (1 Tim. 4:13), pray (Acts 2:42), read the Bible and hear it read (1 Thess. 5:27), take up an offering (2 Cor. 9:11-15), take the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:24), baptize (1 Pet. 3:21), and much more. Bringing our teens into the main corporate gathering gives them a fuller picture of the activity of the church.
Youth ministry is a wonderful thing, but it is not always a great picture of what church attendance will be like as an adult.
I want to point out something about the topic of preaching, in particular. While there’s preaching in many student ministries (and there should be), it is not the same thing as preaching during the corporate gathering. In youth ministry, preaching is expounding the Word for a subset of the church, and even if the format of the sermon and the style delivered were the same as that of the pastor, it is not the same as the Sunday morning gathering of the entire body of Christ. There is something beautiful about people from different backgrounds, cultures, and ages, all sitting under the preaching of God’s Word, together. Students miss this if they never attend.
4. It allows students to become acclimated to what it is like to be an adult in church: Youth ministry is a wonderful thing, but it is not always a great picture of what church attendance will be like as an adult. Illustrations will not always be crafted for their specific place in life. Music won’t consistently be selected for their musical style preferences. Corporate worship does not always invoke all of the senses and learning styles. And that’s a good thing. If students have no exposure to this in the duration of their adolescence, though, it will be a rude awakening to them when they reach adulthood. Bringing them to the corporate gathering helps them see what it’s like, and not be shocked or turned off by it.
5. It makes youth ministry supplemental, rather than the main thing: I believe youth ministry is a good thing (I’m a youth pastor!), but it can be problematic if the student ministry is the only connection your student has to the local church. Youth ministry is designed to be a supplement to the activity of the church, not a replacement of it. When we take our students to “Big Church,” it means we are keeping the main thing, the main thing.
6. They get to serve their congregation: In many churches, student are able to serve in a variety of ways on a Sunday morning. From greeting people, to taking the offering, or handing out bulletins, students can serve. Even without serving in formal ways, just being a welcoming presence to those around them and participating in worship serves to encourage the body of Christ. Serving helps students transition from consumers to contributors in the church. This kind of buy-in can help them understand and experience the value of their place in the body of Christ.
7. They get to see their parents sing: One of my favorite reasons that students should attend “Big Church” is the opportunity to see their parents sing to God. Sure, there might be singing in the student ministry Sunday School class, but this is nothing like the whole body of Christ coming together to sing praises to Christ. And the opportunity to hear their parents sing, to see them devoting themselves and turning their minds and hearts to Christ, will help youth see the genuineness of their parents’ faith. You can’t put a price tag on that.
So my encouragement to you would be this—bring your kids to the corporate worship gathering. If it means that you have to sit in the lobby while they are in Sunday School, do it. If it means you sign yourself up for a Sunday School class and go together afterward, do it. Give them the opportunity to see the body of Christ, to hear voices lifted up to the Savior, and to sit under the Word of God being preached to his people.