I have a reputation of being an excellent teacher–of adults. My experience teaching youth is far less extensive and much more of a mixed bag. I’ve taught some lessons that have killed in that environment, but I’ve also substitute taught seminary where the kids were barely awake and nothing I could say would get through to them.
My most extensive run at teaching the youth was when I was the high school age SS teacher a few years back. There were five kids in the class (we covered all four years of high school because there weren’t enough kids to split into the normal two-year age groupings). I was excited when I got the call; I thought this was an opportunity for me to make a real contribution to the lives of these young people.
It was the beginnning of a new curriculum year on OT. My first lesson was one where I go over how the OT is structured, where everything fits together and why. It really was a great lesson that the adults would have cut off an arm to have participated in; but the kids simply weren’t interested. I was not prepared for the amazingly high level of jadedness that existed in that particular classroom.
The parents of these kids were well aware of their jadedness. The father of two of them actually suggested I might need to ratchet up the controversy to get their attention. So I taught an entire lesson on evolution, and another on whether a universal flood is scientifically tenable. I had been a science geek in HS and I would have killed for lessons like that, but these kids were just as bored as ever, and I got no response from them.
So I quickly determined that I would have to change tactics. I started by bringing food in every week, and once a month we had a class party. My next step was that I gave up on teaching formal lessons. Rather, we just talked–about anything they wanted to talk about. I would slip into the conversation religiously based ideas and discussion, but it had to come up naturally in the course of conversation so it was all rather random. But that was the only way I was able to reach them. Over time I began to build a pretty good rapport with those kids, but then our ward was consolidated and that was that, the experiment was over.
My limited experience teaching youth makes me fear for their futures in the church. Many of the kids I taught made no secret of the fact that they were there only because their parents made them come, and as soon as they went away to college, they were outta there. And that in fact seems to be a pervasive phenomenon; so many of our young people quickly lapse into inactivity as soon as they leave home for school.
So the purpose of this post is to get your ideas. What are we doing wrong in our teaching of youth? How can and should we approach this particular task to make it more effective? What has worked for you, and what has crashed and burned? Please share with us your secrets as to how to reach this most difficult demographic in the church.