Pentecost Ideas for Youth

Pentecost Ideas for Youth Ministry

PENTECOST Ideas Kaye has collected from many sources…

Help your students experience the unpredictability of the movement of the Spirit with these hands-on ideas.

The beginning of the church season of Pentecost offers an opportunity to invite youth to think about their understanding of how God’s spirit is at work in the world and in their lives. Pentecost has its origins in an ancient Jewish observance (also known as the “festival of weeks”) which traditionally took place 50 days after Passover. The festival marked the end of the spring harvest and was time when the Jewish people renewed their commitment to the covenant with God and offered up the first fruits of their harvest and the first-born of their flocks as sacrifice.

It is during this celebration that the author of Acts places a group of disciples, women and men, in an upper room in Jerusalem, waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. And then it comes, and it is as if the room is filled with the roar of rushing wind. This metaphor of rushing wind is no random choice on the part of the writer of Acts. Throughout scripture, wind is synonymous with Spirit. In fact, the Hebrew word for “spirit” (“ruach”) also means “wind.” And the Greek word for “wind” (“penuma”) also means “spirit.” And of course, in Genesis, God breathes life/spirit into the nostrils of the first human. Wind and spirit are of the same nature: unpredictable, powerful, often unexpected and sometimes nothing more than a gentle whisper. Both can gather or scatter. Perhaps most importantly, neither can be contained.

So how might you help your youth explore the themes of Pentecost and metaphors for the movement of the Spirit? Here are a few simple ideas to get you thinking:

  • Balloons – Invite youth to blow up red balloons, but don’t tie them. Use sharpies to write prayers on the balloons or perhaps gifts of the Spirit that they possess or that they see in the group. On cue, have everyone release their balloons and enjoy the moment of mayhem as they fly all over the room. Invite them to reflect on how this might be like the movement of God’s Spirit.
  • Kites – Make or purchase paper kites. Use markers to decorate them much as in the balloon activity above and then head outdoors and have fun flying the kites. Afterwards, brainstorm how the movement of the kites (and their attempts to control that movement) is like our experience of the Spirit.
  • Paper airplanes – Invite youth to make and decorate their favorite paper airplanes and then go outdoors and let them fly! Reflect on how the different styles and flight paths of the airplanes can be like the diversity of gifts we possess and the way the Spirit works through them
  • Video – Share this video clip and discuss. .
  • Bubble – Create an inflatable bubble room (Bio-Dome) using plastic sheeting and duct tape. (Google “plastic bubble”) This bubble room is kept inflated by an ordinary house fan. Climb inside and use it for a worship space, inviting youth to reflect on how the wind of the Spirit moves through their lives. For added effect, project Pentecost imagery onto the outside of the bubble while the youth watch from the inside or provide paint for the youth to create Pentecost symbols/words on the walls of the bubble.
  • Music – Invite youth into a moment of unplanned and unpredictable spontaneous music-making. If you have handbells or chimes, give each person one and have them begin to ring, working together until the sounds blend into something harmonious. Reflect on how this is like allowing the Spirit to work through the diversity of the gifts we have to share. (If you don’t have bells on hand, get really creative and head to the church kitchen and grab pots, pans, wooden spoons, etc.).
  • Art – Create a completely unplanned piece of community art. Pass out a variety of materials: markers, crayons, acrylic paint, watercolors, ink pads and stamps, finger paint, and so on. Lay out a large sheet of paper or piece of canvas and challenge the group to work together to create a mural depicting the movement of God’s Spirit without any pre-planning. Just jump in and do it! You could try to play different styles of music as they work and encourage them to let the music influence their art. For added impact, do this in silence (no talking) and then reflect on the experience of what was created without the need for planning and verbal communication. How is the final product different than it might have been if you’d started with a sketch or everyone had the same design in mind?
  • Wind – Cut strips of fabric and invite youth to use markers to decorate them with words and images representing the gifts that help them participate in Gods’ mission of love and peace. Next, tie the strips of cloth to the grill on the front of a box fan and turn it on. As your new kinetic sculpture flutters away, reflect on how it represents the themes of Pentecost.
  • Trust walk – Try an old fashioned trust walk by pairing up youth. One is blindfolded and leads the other on a random walk and then they switch places and walk back. Reflect on the experience and what it would mean for us to just trust the movement of God’s Spirit in the work of the Church.
  • Random Acts of Mission – Put your gifts to use by going out into a public area to perform random acts of mission such as giving away free hugs, pumping peoples’ gas, passing out flowers, praying for strangers, protesting a local injustice, passing out sack lunches to persons who are homeless, performing a skit or song about God’s amazing love on a busy street corner, and so on. Afterward, reflect on the experience and what is was like to take a risk, not knowing how the acts of mission might be received. Consider how this can be what it means to let go and trust rather than try to control the movement of the Spirit.

I have no doubt that some of us serve in churches where, if the Pentecost moment came during a worship gathering, there would be ushers ready with water bottles to spritz out the flames over our heads and elders rushing to close the windows in order to stop the roaring wind of the Spirit! The challenge then perhaps is to look for ways in our ministry to take what could be perfectly-controlled socially-acceptable situations (like many of our youth ministry gatherings?), and throw caution to the wind, introduce an element of the unexpected, maybe a hint of danger, and see if those experiences can make us more susceptible to the uncontrollable movement of God’s Spirit.


Youth Ministry as a Social Network

Network Church by John Vest

MPI logo FinalistOLƒFor the past few years I have been cultivating an approach to ministry I call “Network Church.” Elements of this approach have certainly been in practice in a variety of ministry contexts for years, but this has been my way of pulling it together into a unified understanding of how to be church in today’s world. My first attempt to develop this into a book stalled, but I plan on returning to it after I get a few other projects out of my system and after I’ve curated some more experience and research on this in my work at Union Presbyterian Seminary. I submitted the following description to be considered for the McCormick Prize for Innovation and it was recognized as a finalist. I’ll be teaching an adult education class on this concept at Fourth Presbyterian Church over the course of the next three Sunday mornings.

My biggest step forward in youth ministry was when I stopped focusing on attracting young people to church programs and began to think of church as a social network. The majority of young people who are confirmed in mainline Protestant churches stop participating after confirmation. Instead of trying to woo them back to programs they are clearly not interested in, the church needs to seek out ways to engage them in their own environments. My new goal is for youth to leave confirmation with a multi-generational network of peers and adults who will remain in relationship with them (regardless of traditional church involvement) and create opportunities for ongoing faith formation.

This has changed my thinking about ministry in general. The church at large has failed to recognize that congregations are based on anachronistic social capital models. Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman suggest that “networked individualism” is the “new social operating system” of the 21st century. Instead of focusing exclusively on attractional or program-based approaches to ministry that will have limited results in a post-Christendom cultural matrix that we cannot realistically hope to change, the church must also invest in the religious and spiritual lives that people are actively cultivating beyond congregations. A network approach to ministry (in person and online) will most effectively take advantage of the social infrastructures operative today. “Network church” is a new model for youth ministry and ministry with “spiritual but not religious” people of all ages.

IMG_1077My thinking about “Network Church” grew out of my reflection on adolescent confirmation in mainline Protestant churches. In these churches it is usually the case that confirmation is treated like “graduation” from church and it becomes the last meaningful faith formation opportunity many emerging adults experience for a decade or more. The overall decline of Protestantism and the so-called “rise of the nones” indicates that many mainline Protestants are walking out of church on confirmation Sunday and never coming back at all.

IMG_1076It is imperative, therefore, that the confirmation experience “has legs” that will travel with youth as they leave church. Ensuring that each young person is launched from confirmation with a network of peers and adults who will remain in some kind of meaningful relationship with them as they journey through high school and beyond will keep them connected and provide opportunities for ongoing support, faith formation, spiritual development, and missional service in the world.

But the impact of network thinking is not limited to this perennial church problem. Rather, the “Network Church” approach has the potential to revolutionize the way we understand church participation, church growth, evangelism, and outreach to un-churched or de-churched populations.

IMG_1073Whether it is a program (like youth ministry) or the congregation as a whole, every church system has at least three levels of participants: a core group of regular participants, a semi-regular group of participants, and a periphery of people who participate very little or perhaps not at all. And, of course, there are people outside of the system altogether. The church must engage different approaches for ministry with each group. Most churches are stuck or do not reach their full potential because they focus almost all of their energy on the regular participants (or others like them) who are already interested in the kinds of religious and spiritual experiences mediated by the congregation.

IMG_1075By thinking of each person in the system as an individual in a social network—whether that system is a congregation, a program within a congregation, a new worshipping community, a church plant, or even outreach possibilities in the community—it is less important what programs or activities they participate in and more important who they are connected to and what kinds of interactions they have with the people in their network. In youth ministry, this will mitigate against the loss of young people who no longer participate in traditional church activities because they will still be in meaningful networked relationships with people of faith. In the church as a whole, it will become clear that as much or more energy needs to be directed into ministry in a variety of social networks and public spaces as is directed toward traditional church programs. It will be critical in this “Network Church” approach to curate and facilitate faith formation opportunities that will thrive within the infrastructure of social networks (as opposed to congregations gathering in brick and mortal buildings).

IMG_1074Coupled with traditional congregations, the “Network Church” concept will provide a more effective means of ministry and outreach with a much broader base of members, constituents, and adherents. Many traditional congregations will continue to thrive and grow—often at the expense of other traditional congregations. But these successful congregations can no longer bank on the long-term viability of attractional and program-based paradigms. Rather, they will need to recast themselves as churches sending missionaries into post-Christendom cultural space. These missional followers of Christ will organize themselves and those they minister to and with along existing and emerging social networks. Instead of wooing people into church, we need to bring church to the people. Instead of building and maintaining institutions, we need to rethink what “church” might mean in a post-congregational cultural context.

JOHN W. VEST has been in ministry for fifteen years, the last nine of which as the Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. In 2014 he served as the Moderator of the Presbytery of Chicago.