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/ 3 July 2019

Tips for running Sunday youth sessions

Zoe Phillips shares some tips and ideas from her time running sessions with young people on Sundays.

If you’re able to make it happen, doing something unique for youth during church services can be an invaluable medium for discipleship and build relationships across generations. Whilst young people don’t want to be artificially separated, they do value connection and feeling like something is tailored for them. Here’s some tips and ideas from what I’ve learned over the last two years, running a dedicated session for young people during church services.

Agree some values

One great thing to create with a new group (and refresh each year) is group values. These are words and statements that sum up how we want to be in the room together. The values you agree together, set the culture.

It’s important to ensure they come up with these values as a group – try to involve everyone and clarify the values so they’re clear to everyone. You can inject a couple, but let the young people come up with the bulk (which will usually mention fun, respect and food). Assign a decent chunk of one of your sessions to this, especially if you take a break over the summer holidays. Write them up and display them on the wall, so you can reference them in conversation when things need steering or as an encouragement when someone embodies them well.

Use rewards and prizes

We have a Sunday youth prize box, from which we reward one young person each week who embodies the Sunday youth values. We also have a box of sweets that get handed out for particularly insightful, honest or brave answers and for remembering to bring their Bible.

Transition year 6’s sooner

We’ve found moving those in year 6 up to the Sunday youth session in January works well for us, as opposed to the summer or during the September they start year 7 (secondary school).

Moving up in January means:

  • It’s one less change in the summer months for those in year 6: moving up helps them feel at ease and gel with the older youth sooner, which can enable greater belonging at church, which helps them stay rooted during the big change of beginning secondary education.
  • You can use the secondary transition as a discipleship opportunity – since you’ve already started building trust since the spring.
  • By spring, those in year 6 are often maturing and getting ready for something a bit more youth friendly.
  • It can also give those doing children’s ministry a bit more breathing space to focus on the younger children on Sundays.

Every voice matters

Once a term we do a fully youth-led session, where they grapple with a topic or question chosen by them. In this session, the leaders hold back and the young people self-direct the conversation and flow of the time. If this interests you, I’ve written two articles about this concept and what I learned trying it.

Think of ways you can help their thoughts and questions be expressed in your Sunday sessions. How can you create the freedom and space to process and talk about the things that matter to them?

Try whole-church games

One of the problems we noticed is that the youth don’t know many adults in the church, aside from their parental friendship circles.

We invented a game to help them get to know people. It’s called, “Who Am I?”

The game happens a few times a month. We explain and set the challenge at the end of Sunday youth group session. The young people are told an interesting fact about a person in church (this is gathered and shared with permission!). Then the youth use the time at the end of the service to “gather intelligence” and find out who that person is. Once they have a name, they need to find the person and ask them three “getting to know you” questions and offer to pray for them! The young person who completes the challenge first gets a prize…

This game builds their conversational skills (important in the age of social media dominance) whilst knitting them more into the community and gives adults a chance to get to know them too. Try and think of different ways you could build relationships in your church – I guarantee young people will be up for anything fun you throw at them. Novelty is a fun factor in church!

Structure your sessions

We’ve found this structure works quite well for our Sunday youth (45 minute session):

  • First few minutes: young people arrive in the space, get a drink and biscuit
  • 10 minutes: Ice breaker or game
  • 5 minutes: Topic introduced, teaching time
  • 10 minutes: activity (way for everyone to engage with topic)
  • 10 minutes: small group discussion and questions (going deeper into topic with small group leader)
  • 5 minutes: prayer as a group or in small groups
  • 5 minutes: session wrap up, prize giving

It’s helpful to break up the time like this, as it keeps young people more engaged. Bitesize chunks are also the best way young people learn.

I hope these ideas give you some food for thought – feel free to adapt! I encourage you to share your own ideas and tips on Twitter or Facebook using #YWchat.

About Zoe Phillips

Zoe PhillipsZoe joined Christ Church W4 in 2016. She is passionate about discipling young people and seeing faith become real and relevant to their daily lives. She studied Theology and Youth Ministry at St. Mellitus and a Masters in Christian Leadership. She also is the Church Liason Officer for the Youth Minster and Youth Advocate for the Diocese of London.

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