Youth Perspective on What We Need to Do Better
One of the questions we asked the youth who visited the Unitarian Universalist Association UUA was, "If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your church?"
This question – although seemingly frivolous – was intended to see what needs youth had that their congregation wasn't serving. Instead, the responses showed us the aspirational vision our youth have for their congregations. Because of these responses, we added another question: "How could your church better serve you?" We shared the responses to these two questions with the leaders of the youth's congregations.
The "magic wand" questions elicited some fantastically detailed responses from our youth. Their opinions range the gamut from incredibly big-picture ("Mondays are no-school church days. Sundays stay open") to the minute ("More comfortable pews").
Due to this distinction, I am going to lift up a few trends I noticed. First, a number of youth would change the architecture, structure, or growth of their congregation.Responses related to church growth/structure: "I would have a larger space for worship, youth group, etc."
"Our awesome minister is leaving in the next few years, and its a bummer"
"The structure of the building as well as the connection between people in the congregation. "
"Accessibility for handicap people- our church is old! "
"I'd give the church more Money because every one needs more money."
"Make a magic sign that made people check the church out."
"I would like us to be able to have our own building."
"I would increase the pledging from the youth.""I would make Religious Education be year round, instead of taking a break in the summer."
"I would upgrade the whole sanctuary for maximum worship."
"I would change how we do our worship. When we sing during our service it is always monotone and bored sounding. The change I would make to this would be making a more up beat and enthusiastic environment for people to be in during service. "
These responses show us that our youth have a passion for their congregation that is equal to that of the adults in our congregation.Responses regarding youth involvement and participation: "I would make there be teen-based sermons."
"The youth would have more chances to personally interact with the adults and other youth who aren't in their age group."
"I wish we could do more youth lead services, and middle school and high school activities"
"I would change how much youth interact with activities that older members participate in. As of now I feel like there is almost no in between interaction between groups."
A number of our youth shared that they would change the way youth are involved in their congregation, but not to isolate themselves. There is a distinct and pressing need for multi-generational spaces. We can clearly see that our youth want these opportunities.Lastly, we see our youth want their congregation to be a presence in their community: "The diversity – we need to be more diverse and more well known in [X]."
"Take more group orientated/unified action towards current events and equality."
"Have the surrounding city of [Y] know more about our church, so do more advertising."
"Have some mission trips to help people."
"I would create programs that bring [Z] together with other churches of all religions."
"More justice work out in the community (less talk, more action)."
Sometimes, we forget that we have a responsibility to our communities in the same ways we have a responsibility to ourselves. As we can see, Unitarian Universalist youth want to share their faith and do work within and around their communities.
Overall, if youth had a magic wand only a few would do frivolous things like change the church into a water park. What youth really want is for their congregation to be involved in their community, healthy, and welcoming to people of all generations and identities.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your congregation?Up next: How could congregations better serve youth?