20 ways to engage young people

Contributed by: Brad and Claudia Wood, Diocese of Nelson

20 practical ways to engage and excite young people with the Gospel…

Nelson Anglican Youth have come up with twenty simple, practical and honest ways that will get people excited about engaging with teenagers and the gospel.


1. Start with who you have.
Invest into the young people that you do have. Every church is connected to at least a few young people. Make a long term strategic plan and invest as they grow – even if that means investing into 5 year olds right now.

2. Eat food together.
If you are eating meals together, you are doing life together. Have them over for dinner, watch movies, take them tramping. Show them how to ride that old motorbike in your garage. Show them how to fix that old motorbike when they break it.

3. Make loom bracelets.
Spend time doing what your young people are interested in – play Xbox, ask them what their favourite scooter trick is, compliment their hipster haircut, challenge them to petanque. If you don’t have a clue what interests them – then ask them!

4. Get to know their story.
Who is in their family? What gets them excited? What are the highs and lows of their life? Remember their answers because they are your best ammunition for engaging them!

5. Be their community.
Their patch, their family, the group of people where they belong. Help them feel valued and to use their skills, to feel accepted. Help them to feel like there is something for them at church. If your Sunday service is solely directed at 40-70 year olds, how can you expect a 20 year old to feel part of the community?

6. Tell them about your 80s mullet.
Share about your life, about how you came to faith. How has God moved in your life, transformed, encouraged you? Continue sharing how about you are growing in faith. Life stories help deepen trust, plus, young people are awed and terrified that you once dealt with what they are dealing with now.

7. Be passionate.
Show that you are excited by what God has done and is doing now. Share what God did in your life this week. Ask them what God is doing in their life and get excited about it!! We should be pumped up on how life changing Jesus is! Passion is infectious, so share your passion for God with them.

8. Discover YouTube. And Google. And Pinterest.
When trying to reach the YouTube generation… use YouTube! There is a truck load of amazing content on the internet that you can use to illustrate ideas when teaching or preaching. On that note: Data projectors can be used for more than just white or yellow text on a black background!

9. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
There’s no point arguing the finer points of infant baptism if your audience doesn’t understand who Jesus is and what he did. Know where your young people are at and use that to work out your teaching focus. Ask them what they want to learn!

10. Play Matchmaker.
Be strategic about helping young people to grow in their faith. Pair people up with mentors, people they enjoy spending time with. Group people together with a leader. Create intentional discipleship structures. Encourage your young people to disciple others as well. Ask your older folk to get involved, to share their wisdom and life experience with the young people in their lives.

11. Embrace the movement.
Help young people to know they are part of a global movement, something that’s radical and life changing. Young people like to know they are part of something bigger. Teach them about how they have a great purpose in God. Help them to know what they can do to be part of the Great Commission; serving, sharing, loving.

12. Start an Op-Shop.
Help grow a social conscience! Find out and harness their passions. It could be helping those in poverty, isolation, hospitality, serving… Help them to set goals and achieve them, like:
– Co-ordinating Christmas presents for kids in poverty
– Raising $1000 for the 40 hour famine
– Putting on a barn dance for the local community

13. Take a Chance.
Give leadership and responsibility even if you think they might fail. It is so important for young people to be believed in. Ask them to cook for the group, lead prayer, share a message, run kids church, help with the multimedia, design a new website. Responsibility helps empower, equip, lets them know they belong.

14. Remove the Barriers.
Churches are alien for an unchurched generation. If you want young people in church it will mean some compromise. This doesn’t necessarily mean loud rock music – but if a young person came in off the street would they know what to do and how to act in your service? Would your congregation know how to act towards them?
What can you develop to make it more comfortable?

15. Refresh your design.
This includes Powerpoints, church signage and building, vibe, food, music, website, photography, seating and much more. Young people love good design and will tend to recoil at the sight of a website that hasn’t been touched since 1999. The good news is that many young people are happy to help!

16. Ditch the Wine Biscuits and Instant Coffee.
“I’ll show you how much I care about you with this watery instant coffee” – said no-one ever. It costs money to upgrade, but it is hospitality that shows you care
Greeting new people with a “Hello, it’s great to meet you” along with a Tim-Tam or an espresso makes them feel valued. Young people are consumers of resources and do cost money.

17. Find your Niche.
We are all part of the wider church family, and all fit into an age bracket that relates to young people differently, this is okay. You don’t have to be young to engage with young people. Don’t pretend to be their peer if you belong to the older bracket. They want adults who care about them who they can trust.

18. Stop waiting for 100% approval before you move the pews.
Youth dislike rigidity when it seems to be irrelevant to the gospel. Young people hate Church politics/ are interested in the big picture. We don’t mean to belittle traditions or ceremony but we come from a different generation where a lot of these things are foreign. We can’t understand tiptoeing around issues while the church declines.

19. Take them on an Adventure.
Take your young people on a camp, tramp, picnic. This removes them from their normal environment and breaks down barriers. It is the fastest way to build relationships and gives a great space for talking through big questions together.

20. Train your Young People to do the dirty work.
Train the youth you have, how to share the gospel with their peers. Young people are your best tools for reaching other young people. They naturally know more young people than you will!

You can download a pdf of this resource here as well as the  powerpoint slides which include all the individual images.