Many parishes periodically have something called a "youth service." In my last parish, in the 90s, one of my staff responsibilities was to work with the DCE (Director of Christian Education) to prepare a "youth service" once a quarter. This meant that praise songs and other 'contemporary' music was expected to be sung, that youth would read the lessons and take other, 'creative' roles in the liturgy, and, above all, that the sermon would be replaced by a dramatic presentation from the youth. Over time, I was able to make the "youth service" more like our normal Divine Services, and we did do them less often before I left, but, in the end, the congregation's idea that there needed to be a "youth service" remained - as well as the idea that the youth needed to do "youth things" at such services.
On Easter 3 this year, some might say we had a "youth service" at Bethany, because of all the teenagers who were involved. But it wasn't anything like the youth services promoted by Synod, Inc. Instead, it just happened to be a service where the musicians of the day were a youth ensemble, and a couple of the ushers on the assigned usher team were high school students as well (not to mention our acolytes). There was no need for a cutesy morality play or entertaining skit, nor was there some sort of ersatz confession & "forgiveness" led by the kids before worship. The pastors played their roles like they always do, and they just happened to be assisted in the Lord's ministry by a whole bunch of young people doing the things that lay volunteers do in the service.
And the musicians in this group were not "the youth group", but were simply a group of youth who already participate in the music program at Bethany, and are drawn together every other month or so to make music by themselves - just as I draw other groups of musicians out of the regular groups to form special ensembles. Of the 8 kids who sing in the group, 6 sing in one of our choirs; of the 5 instrumentalists, 3 play with another liturgical ensemble and 3 ring in the handbell choir. And so we had 9 youth sing and play in various combinations, accompanied at different times by various instruments: clarinet, flute, bass, guitar, piano, synth, and organ.*
But our congregation's piety and customs did not change due to their involvement. So it wasn't a "youth service", just lots of youth serving. And this is how it should be. We don't need to change the church in order to involve young people, we just need to make room for them and make use of their talents just like we do with the talents of our adults. This approach may be less "fun and exciting" as doing something "special with the kids" might seem. But the youth enjoy this more, because this approach treats them as the mature adults they aspire to be.
The more we give both children and youth things they can grow into, rather than grow out of, the more connected they will remain to the Church. And the experiences they have as students will shape their piety for the rest of their lives. Why not make them liturgically Lutheran?
*My custom with these groups is to keep about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the music played by the organist of the day. This particular Sunday the youth ensemble played the Canticle of Praise, sang the psalm antiphon and led the chanting of the Psalm of the Day, sang the Verse of the Day, presented an anthem as the offerings were received, played one of the communion hymns, and led the singing of another Canticle at the end of the Lord's Supper. For those interested, here's the breakdown:
Canticle of Praise: "Now the Feast and Celebration", Marty Haugen; congregation sang refrain, three singers sang the verses and sang a descant on the refrian. Accompaniment was guitar, bass, flute, clarinet, synth, and piano.
Psalm: Psalm 4 from Liturgy Solutions. SATB a capella antiphon used as a refrain. Kids sang the antiphon first, but then the congregation sang it between certain verses.
Verse: Verse for Easter 3 C from Litury solutions. Accompanied by organ. Congregation has the alleluias (VICTORY), and the Verse for the Sundays of Eastertide (Romans 6:9); choir then sang the proper Verse for Easter 3.
Voluntary: I arranged Stuart Townsend's "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" for 3 voices, flute, clarinet, bass, synth, and guitar.
Communion Hymn: The congregation sang "Stay with Us" accompanied by the ensemble playing out of the LSB Guitar edition, with clarinet & flute playing melody at first, and then descants I composed for the occasion.
Closing Canticle: Instead of "Thank the Lord" at the end of the Lord's Supper, the youth ensemble led the congregation in singing David Haas' "We Have Been Told".
So how do you involve the youth of your parish in leading the Lord's song? Feel free to share your comments