As a worship leader and a youth pastor, one challenge that has always weighed heavy on my heart is keeping young people engaged during a worship service. In my travels, I have noticed that every youth group has the standard few who stand at the front, closest to the stage, with their eyes closed and their hands raised. We call these kids the “On Fire Kids”. But what about the kids who stay seated while staring out into space like they’re paralyzed, or the ones that play on their iPhones during worship? I believe every youth pastor as well as worship leader desires to see their young people connect with God in a real and intimate way.

When it comes to young people engaging in worship, I believe that one of the biggest obstacles we face in our youth groups is the lack of diverse methods for them to engage. Typically, for young people to engage within the context of our worship, they have to like poorly played music that sounds kind of like Cold Play with Christian lyrics. Even if the music is done well, there is no guarantee they will like the style of music you play or that they like music at all. I know it’s hard to believe, but I have had young people tell me they don’t care for music. To begin to create a more engaged and inclusive culture of worship I would give the following advice:

First, begin to consistently teach your young people on the topic of worship. I used to assume that if we prayed hard enough before service, and the worship music was done just right, and I cried while singing, people would naturally come under the presence of God. Even though I have experienced those moments, it has not been the reality most of the time.  Most of the youth that I minister to want to know why we raise our hands, why we sing, why we bow down, etc. I’d encourage all youth leaders to begin to build a culture of worship not based on the quality of their music or the charisma of their worship leaders, but based on teaching the reality that God demands worship from us because he is worthy of it. In my experience, genuine worship comes from a place of properly understanding why we worship.

Second, incorporate more expressions of worship other than music. In the past, we have set up stations for painting, poetry and journaling. We have also allowed our music to be interrupted by poems, prophetic painting explanations, etc. My advice to help facilitate this is to always having a leader manning these stations, otherwise they can quickly turn into areas for students to check out. I would also encourage designating as many leaders as you can to engage youth who seem unengaged. A lot of the time, students who seem unengaged have had a bad week and just need to talk and pray with someone.

Third, be open to the moving of the Spirit. None of our services matter unless people are having genuine encounters with the Living God. For this to happen, I believe leaders should always have a flexible plan for the worship service. If you’re feeling lead to allow more time for music, then let it happen. If your kids are getting prophetic words, let them share them. If you feel there should be less music and more time for the message, then run with it. Remember, you’re the leader for a reason.

Of course, no matter how hard you try, there will always be some young people who still seem unengaged. Pray for them and try to meet them where they are at. Worship is bigger than music and it’s about more than doing it for programs sake. It’s all about individual people and bringing them closer to God. If you lose that, then it’s time to repent and start over.