A while ago, it has been months now, I asked some of the students at our church: out of all the things that our church or youth ministry did, what was it that they believed formed their faith most significantly? I threw out things like mission trips, worship, retreats, Bible studies, small groups, special events or conferences. What I was most interested in were things that they thought helped them to integrate their faith into all of their life, not just times when they felt emotionally close to God or had a sense of a spiritual high.
Surprisingly, their most common answer was Soul Emergence. Soul Emergence was a program that we had cancelled a year and a half ago because of scheduling conflicts and never really picked back up, for a few mostly pathetic reasons. The idea behind Soul Emergence (it wasn’t even started by me, the previous youth minister launched it) was to create one of those typical emergent-style worship services complete with plenty of time for prayer and contemplation. It started out fairly complicated with a sermon/discussion time, music and singing, and then a self-directed prayer time using the dozen or so prayer stations that were set up around the room.
But eventually Soul Emergence really became centered around those prayer stations. We didn’t do music anymore and I just spoke briefly to introduce a thought or topic or to explain a new spiritual practice to the group. And then, they were sent off to pray by themselves for 30-45 minutes. When people ask me, “What is Soul Emergence?” I usually respond by saying “a way to trick youth into praying for extended periods of time.” Tell a 15 year old to pray for even 10 minutes straight and you will probably get a funny look. But for some reason, the guidance and environment provided during the time of Soul Emergence lends itself to youth praying for significant chunks of time (in fact, one night we spent two hours in silence; no one said a word). It is really quite remarkable. Anytime you can get people to pray, I think it is a good thing.
As I said, we had canceled Soul Emergence for about 18 months due to some petty scheduling issues. Since I learned that this was one thing that was really formative in the faith lives of our young people, it was a no brainer to start it up again. So we brought it back for the spring and will do it again once fall kicks back off. In a way, Soul Emergence is founded on the idea of the classic prayer chapel. It is a sacred space provided for prayer and contemplation. Sometimes we need those dedicated placed in order to learn how to pray. Then, we can better integrate prayer and our faith into other areas of our lives.
If there is any way you can get youth praying, you should work at it. For the teens in my church, prayer has been a significant piece of their spiritual formation, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. For a starting point on creating a worship and prayer environment like we do, I recommend Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations. I’ll see if I can dig up any more good resources for people who are interested.
What about you? How have you found great ways to get teens (or anyone for that matter) to pray? Do you have resources for creating similar environments?