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10 Hacks to Engage Teenagers in an Online Worship Experience

If our goal is to help students connect with God wherever they are in this season, then we have to get creative in how we connect with them.

Anybody else experiencing a little digital fatigue? From Zoom meetings to online church gatherings to weekly family FaceTimes, the struggle to avoid becoming screen weary is real. But at the same time, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube metrics have been on a drastic rise since the start of the pandemic.

What does this tell us?

Well, though some students are fatigued with virtual school and online student ministry gatherings, most students aren’t consuming less content via screens. They’re just consuming more of the content they want. It’s fair to say students aren’t tired of the digital world; they may just be tired of content in the way we package it.

So, how can we make our digital worship experiences something that students would choose to watch without making them feel like mandatory fun or just another expectation on their plates?

Well, it’s time to think outside the box! As worship leaders, we can’t just prepare and lead the same way we would in person and expect it to have the same impact online. If our goal is to help students connect with God wherever they are in this season, then we have to get creative in how we connect with them.

To help, we’ve collaborated with a group of diverse worship leaders from around the country to pull together ten hacks to help you engage your students during an online worship experience.

1. Worship with them, not at them.

Remember, you’re not putting on a digital concert for your students. You’re leading them in worship and that means you need them to join in with you. Find ways to move your students from online spectators to active participants in digital worship. For starters, use the chat feature! Ask students to submit anything from song requests, prayer needs, favorite song lyrics, or just answers to a general question to get them started and participating as you lead.

2. Make it more than music.

We always say worship is more than just music. Well, now is the time to make it more than music! What else can you do to enhance the online worship experience for your students? Consider leading a prayer, reading a passage of Scripture, or asking students to respond to a brief discussion about what God is doing in their lives. Help students take worship outside of the experience by inviting them to participate in a challenge that week. It could be as simple as finding a chore around the house that they can do “as unto to the Lord” or reaching out to a friend via text or social media to share an encouraging song or Scripture.

3. Encourage students to create an environment.

While students may be used to worshiping with you in your student ministry environment, that doesn’t mean they can’t find an environment that will help them connect and engage right where they are. Take time to encourage students to create an environment in their own space that will help them focus in worship. A quiet, private area of their own, a set up in their backyard, a spot in their room away from distraction—whatever it is, guide students to find a space where they can worship freely. Think about their environment through the five senses. Could they light a candle or turn on string lights? Could they make sure the temperature in the room feels right? If communion is a part of your practice, how could that be done digitally?

4. Set expectations.

Students may feel uncomfortable responding to worship online in the same ways they would in person. Put them at ease by setting some expectations for the worship experience. Tell them what they can do in response to worship. Raise their hands, sing along, close their eyes, respond in the chat, or even turn their video off for some privacy. Whatever it is, set the expectations to set them at ease before you begin.

5. Share your setlist.

Prep your students for worship ahead of time by sharing the weekly setlist with them. Post it to your student ministry’s social media channels or create and share a Spotify playlist. If your band is rehearsing in person, you could even go live on Instagram from the rehearsal to share a few highlights from the setlist that week. This will not only give students a chance to get familiar with the songs they’ll be singing, but it will also get them excited for the weekly online gathering and make them feel more connected to the worship leaders and band members.

6. Create a guided experience.

Remember, engaging students online has to look different than it does in person. It has to be more interactive! So, create a guided worship experience for students to follow and participate in as you lead. This could include a responsive reading, a guided prayer, a time for students to respond in the chat, or a little bit of all of that! Whatever it is, be intentional about the ways you guide students through an engaging worship experience.

7. Host a themed worship experience.

To help students engage and respond, choose some themes for your weekly worship experience. Maybe one week is focused on gratitude. That means your setlist, your Scripture, your questions, your stories—they all center around the idea of expressing gratitude to God. You can also choose themes that aren’t so serious. Think about different genres of music (like an acoustic week), different medleys (like a Disney medley to open a Disney-themed week), or even different ways for students to dress up (like a glow week).

8. Make it personal.

One of the best things about the digital worship experience is that it puts you on the same level as your students. There’s no stage separating you; you’re all there, online together. Make this an opportunity for students to get to know you in a personal way. Share a little bit about yourself. Talk openly with students about how you’re managing this new digital world. Maybe give a student you know a shout-out to make a personal connection.

9. Let students step up.

If you want to engage students in a new way digitally, find ways to invite them to step up and lead. Ask a student who plays an instrument or sings to share a song. Ask a student you know well to share a brief testimony or devotional. Invite a student to do the welcome at the beginning of your set or close in prayer at the end of the set.

10. Keep the connection going.

The challenge to engaging students online doesn’t end on Sundays. If you want students to stay excited and keep showing up, then you have to find ways to keep the connection going outside of your weekly gathering. Post promotional content on social media, offer to host a small digital meet-up during the week, offer singing or musical lessons, or simply send a few texts to let students know you’re excited to see them again this week. Those small things can make a big difference in leading your students online.

We know this isn’t an easy season, for students and leaders alike! We’re cheering you on as you find ways to engage and lead your ministry in this digital era. And if you have a few of your own hacks for leading worship online, we’d love to hear them!

Remember, we’re all in this thing together, and we can’t wait to see how digital worship continues to unfold and impact the students in your ministry.

It took a team to write the blog. Thanks to the following contributors: Chris Coleman, Josh Czufin, Mario Gonzalez, Ashley Johnson, George Lin, Leslie Mack, Zack Moody, Kesia Pereira, Christopher Tafalla, and Ashley Bohinc.

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