Our youth are magnificent, but we need to tap into their potential, ensuring that they will grow to love the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some or all of these tips may help your teen to get more out of their church attendance.
1. Leave all electronics at home or in the car. Do not bring cell phones, ipods, mini-gaming systems, etc. to church. If there is a need for a call to be placed, it should be done outside of the church where it will not disrupt or distract others. The Sunday meeting block is only three hours; there is no need for texting during this time. You may need to have your teen turn in items to you to be sure this rule is enforced. What about the scriptures on their electronic device? As a Sunday School teacher of teens, I have noted that the temptation to play games is too strong. The best way to resist temptation is to avoid it.
2. Ask your teen if they would be willing to help you choose appropriate music to set the mood for the Sabbath. Encourage them to get ready for church early to eliminate the anxiety often felt in the hurry to get to church on time. Ask them to give ideas to make feeling the Spirit more accessible in your home.
3. Teach Saturday prepration for Sunday. Many teenagers may roll their eyes if you sing, “Saturday is a special day, it’s the day we get ready for Sunday,” but the message rings true no matter what your age. Check with your teen to see if their Sunday clothing needs laundering and teach them how to iron their clothes, polish their shoes and belts, and mend clothing.
Preparing for meetings, lessons, talks etc. on Saturday is important because it helps to reduce last-minute nerves and ensures the tasks will be completed.
4. Ask your teenagers what they learned in their Sunday school class or Young Men/Women. To overcome the famous, “I don’t know” answer which usually comes from a question like this, instead ask, “What did you find most interesting today?” You can also ask them, “What are three things you learned today?” This helps them concentrate on the positive aspects of their church programs and encourages more conversation on these topics.
5. Be aware of your teen’s activities and meetings. Encourage your teen to be responsible and inform you of announcements, but also be proactive so they don’t miss out on important events. If possible, obtain a copy of the calendar of scheduled events. Encourage your teen to fill in activities on the family calendar. If your teen is reluctant to attend certain activities, talk to them, listen, and find out where these feelings stem from. What can you do to overcome these feelings? If there are valid concerns, you may find it necessary to meet with your teen’s leader to discuss solutions. Also, encourage your teen to come up with suggestions for activities they might enjoy—youth leaders usually welcome ideas to help them plan appropriately for their classes.
6. Discuss how your teen can help those with special needs in your ward. Ask them to be aware of those children no matter what age they may be. Something as small as saying “Hello! How are you doing?” may be significant to a member with special needs.
7. Help them become familiar with scripture reading. Reading scriptures together is important for the obvious reasons of gaining a testimony and reinforcing gospel principles in the home, but have you considered some of the other reasons this is important? When you read together as a family it provides your teen an opportunity to become familiar with reading the scriptures. If they are comfortable reading aloud at home, it is more likely they will be comfortable participating in church in answering questions and reading aloud.
8. Give them FHE responsibilities. Holding regular Family Home Evening is important for your teens especially if you encourage them to take part in planning, giving lessons, etc. These small tasks can teach them how to prepare for youth talks, lessons, and other activities.
9. Support them in their callings. If your teen complains about their calling in church, listen first and then ask them if they would like ideas on how to improve their experience. Sometimes your child may just be venting and appreciate a listening ear and other times they may have significant challenges with their responsibilities. In all cases, if you can subtly steer them in a positive direction you may impact their attitude toward future callings.
An important question to ask is, has your teen been set apart for their calling? If not, set up a time to do so—all members should be set apart for every calling. Can they remember any parts of that blessing? Help them to focus on the most important aspects of their position. At times, teens may become bogged down by all the planning meetings and find it hard to see the forest for the trees. Help them to see the significance of their efforts.
10. Talk to your teenagers about Jesus’s commandment to love one another. Do they believe this commandment applies to everyone in their church group? As much as we would like to ignore it, peer pressure still occurs in church youth groups. Often, certain persons are singled out because they are different—they may be shunned, picked on, or fought with openly. Talk to your teenager about what Christ would have them do in these situations. Reinforce the importance of their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Are they standing as a witness of Christ, even in difficult circumstances when peer pressure is strongest?
When friends of other faiths visit, remember that those they interact with will help to make a solid impression of the church, be it good or bad. Discuss how important it is to live up to the standards of the gospel and be a good example of Christ-like love to all who visit our church.
Always be open with your teenagers and encourage them to talk to you about situations that may be occurring in your ward. There may be a need for parental intervention or help from the bishopric in resolving some situations.
Finally, remember that your teen is still a teenager. At times they may act like an adult, but there are many more steps until they graduate from “teendom.” The youth programs of the church are inspired and tailored to help your teen during this unpredictable time of their life. Work with them, not against, to make attending church more enjoyable and help them gain a strong love of the gospel which will carry into adulthood.
Your turn: What techniques have you found useful in making church better for your teen?