When we first tried bringing prayer to our church’s junior-high youth ministry, we constructed a prayer wall. Built by placing plastic letter clings on a wall in our classroom, the prayer wall was simple enough. Our wall was divided into two sections, with one section labeled “Prayer Requests” and one section labeled “Answered Prayers”.
The students were encouraged to write their prayer requests on sticky notes and place them under the “Prayer Requests” heading. Our intention was to eventually move requests to the “Answered Prayers” and build a visible testimony to God’s faithfulness. We adults modeled what it might look like to pray over the notes publicly and then turned for child volunteers, hoping they would jump at the chance.
Well, it seemed 7th-9th graders were a little shyer than we thought.
After several weeks of modeling or selecting our more confident kids to reluctantly try their hand at public prayer, we realized something had to change. Even with the repeated encouragement to take time to quietly pray over the list before or after class, the prayer wall was languishing.
What Worked in the Past?
We recalled the younger grades, where the Sunday school curriculum was set by a weekly subscription. There was always a rhythm established to keep the children’s attention:
- Open play >
- Quick introduction to the lesson >
- Leave the classroom join other classes in “large group” to
- receive a spoken message,
- view a video lesson,
- review the lesson,
- rehearse the day’s complimentary memory verse >
- Return to your classroom and break into small groups for an activity with group leaders >
- Read the memory verse and close in prayer >
- Open play.
See? Never a dull moment allowed for shorter attention spans. Since this early-teen class was a new level of youth ministry for our church and there was no template, we were drawing our own map. Here is the early rhythm we established for our kids:
- Open play >
- Attend worship in adult service for the first 20 minutes, until message began >
- Return to classroom and grab snacks (a cheap bribe to encourage attendance?) >
- Squeak out some prayers around the prayer wall >
- Review prior week’s lesson >
- Discuss the day’s lesson and supporting scriptures until adult service lets out.
A little dry, right?
Bring Back Video
We began experimenting with video and the kids said they appreciated it so we added short 5-7 minute video lessons to compound the learning. (Finally, a good use for YouTube. Thank you, Bible Project!)
Next, I sought advice from a colleague who regularly volunteers to work with early teens.
Youth Ministry Strategies for Teaching Prayer
Set the Tone
Before you do anything else, make sure you’re welcoming the children to the class. You’re aiming for laughter and light-heartedness. Be playful. Growing closer to God is a joyful experience. You’re there to grow in fun, faith and friendship.
Modeling and Volunteering
Now, about that prayer wall. Some of the tactics my friend mentioned we were already using. Those were:
- Modeling prayer
- Volunteering them for a turn
Of course, public speaking ranks slightly above the fear of death in adults, so we recognized volunteering them too soon or too often could be scary enough to drive our children away for good. And modeling wasn’t really having the encouraging effect we were hoping for. What else could we do?
Break into Smaller Groups
My friend also suggested breaking them into groups of two or three to pray. Here, my wife added her own touch to suggest having them share one thing they’re thankful for and one area where they need help. (Variation: Share best and worst experiences from the week and pray over that.)
When we piloted this in class, it worked wonderfully. We had the children self-select into pairs and then we modeled for them and set them to it. They took turns sharing and then prayed over each other. After a few minutes we gave them a one-minute warning to wrap up. Once the exercise was over, we asked them if they liked that approach and found nodding heads. Success!
If this were a workshop, we might ask our participants to share their experiences with the larger group; what they liked about it, what they might change, etc. Still, the smiles around the table were evidence they appreciated the more intimate format.
Conclusion: Smaller prayer teams needs to stay a fixture for a while. Maybe permanently.
We almost had this one. After all, we already had a prayer wall (prayer station #1.) Still, we can push the concept further by developing prayer stations. These prayer stations might focus on:
- A religious season, say Christmas or Easter (giving to others, prophesy fulfilled, God’s love for us, etc.)
- A local situation or people group that needs divine assistance (election results, refugee families, emergency workers, teachers, etc.)
- Their school (pray for safety, Holy Spirit to guide faculty, clear teaching, integrity in friendships, etc.)
- Their families (unity, health and safety, love, relationship with God, etc.)
- Prayer itself (declaration, adoration, confession, thankfulness, supplication, intercession, etc.) (see Praying ACTS)
Using prayer stations gets the kids praying on their own (or within a small team) and it gives them guided experience with prayer; something they may not be getting at home.
Form Your Own Prayer Team Online
This is kind of like moving your prayer wall to the Internet without having to stand up a website. You can accomplish this through a Facebook group or you can use the popular group messaging application, GroupMe. You may want to get parental permission before moving forward on this one. Still, if all your kids have phones, these channels may be a good way to solidify your youth group and continue the conversation outside the walls of your church.
Reminders for Your Students
As you establish prayer in your youth ministry, be sure to remind your students the most important thing they can do is to make time for daily fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We must acknowledge God’s love for us. As God’s children, we have a right to approach Him, no matter what we’ve seen, done or experienced.
When praying, ensure your motivation is founded in faith (believing for what you want to see and the truth of the Gospel) as opposed to fear, loneliness, pain, discomfort (fruits of the Fall.) This is a focus on a covenant solution rather than a worldly problem.
We speak destiny and purpose over others; never doom or gloom. Prayer must flow out of love and compassion.