Incorporating Interactive and Contemplative Worship into Youth Ministry

Chasity Opphile
January 10th, 2020

It all started with a simple quest to find a meaningful way to wrap up a series we had been doing on the life of David. I randomly found a prayer station experience, based entirely on his life, while doing an internet search. I gathered the supplies and prayed for the best. I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t sure if the students would enjoy it or think I was totally crazy. They LOVED it! Students that I had never seen spend time in prayer and students that I didn’t know had that much focus were totally into it. Our students spent an hour in focused, solitary, quiet prayer that evening. My mind was blown. What was it about this experience that spoke to our students? I went on a sort of quest to try to figure it out. Since that time, we have done many different types of interactive worship, experiential prayer and contemplative worship elements with our students and they honestly beg for more. Here are a few things I have discovered that I hope may help you to get more hands on in your youth worship experiences.

Students Need A Break From The Chaos

Let’s face it. Students are super busy. And as much as we would like to think it does, quiet and alone time with Jesus doesn’t always make it to the top of their priority list. Their world is filled with multiple and competing voices, over-connectedness, lack of meaningful connectedness, stress and a general sense of busyness. If all we offer in our worship times is singing and preaching, then we run the risk of becoming part of the problem. Students long for a chance to step out of the chaos that surrounds them and connect with Jesus on a personal level. We have the opportunity to offer them a time and space where they can disconnect from the world and focus solely on God. This is something many have not yet figured out how to do on their own. When we provide a focused, interactive and meaningful experience, we will reach them in a totally new way. This is what has our students continuously requesting us to add more interactive worship nights. It’s the opportunity to focus on Jesus in a world that rarely gives them time to do that.

Start Small

Not sure if your students are ready for a full on, hour-long prayer experience? Try adding small elements to your worship times instead. For example, if you are doing a service on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, students could come forward and hammer a nail into a cross as a reflective response to the message. Or, try adding personal reflection journals to your small group time with prompts that relate to the lesson. This is a great, but small, way to get students praying and reflecting. There are so many things you could add to your worship times that will get students experiencing God in real, personal and profound ways. Sometimes the most simple, small thing can have the biggest impact.

Traditional Is NOT Bad

I think a lot of times we tend to write off anything traditional when it comes to student worship experiences. We fear that student will find the traditional boring or not relevant. We are often looking for things that are as contemporary as possible. However, I have found that students actually crave traditional elements. Why? Because they really haven’t been offered to them! What they don’t want are traditions that lack meaning. Show them the meaning behind what they are doing and how it affects their faith and they will be on board.

Reciting creeds, Lectio Divina, responsive readings, and things like Stations of the Cross, in creative, meaningful ways bring the traditional and contemporary together in a powerful blend. Make these spiritual practices hands on and you will have a home run.

Make It Regular

In our student ministry, we had been reserving special prayer experiences for just a few times a year during our weekly youth worship service or during a retreat to line up with the retreat theme. However, we have found this isn’t enough for our students. At the end of the year, we did a survey with our students to help us plan for the coming year, and the number one suggestion they had for improving worship was to do more interactive worship. So, our plan moving forward is to have one special, interactive night of worship every other month. In addition to that, we are trying to be more intentional about adding either contemplative or interactive worship elements to each of our youth worship services. This will assure that they won’t rely only on those special worship events to experience God in a more hands-on way.


Here are a few things that have worked for us.

Thematic Prayer Stations

Adding prayer stations that go along with your theme is a super easy way to add interactive worship elements to your worship experiences or events. A quick online search will give you a myriad of stations to choose from on whatever topic or scripture you need. These are also great for holidays. We love doing interactive Stations of the Cross for Easter and special stations during Advent.

Special Worship Nights Or Retreats

We do special interactive worship nights in place of our regular service from time to time. A favorite of our students is “Worship on a Canvas,” which is a variety of art related stations. We also do something that we call “Reset Worship” which includes worship music and stations geared towards renewing their relationships with God. We are getting ready to try a new one called “Thin Places” that we are also really excited about. In addition to that, we recently did a weekend retreat that was entirely focused on contemplative prayer practices and unplugging from the world.

Prayer Room

One way to regularly add interactive and contemplative worship to your students’ lives is to have a prayer room or prayer area that it is always set up with interactive stations. When we have this available, the students use it as a place to pray before and after youth group each week. Just be sure to change up the stations from time to time to keep it from getting stale.

Have a question or want to hear more about any of this? I would love to chat with you and share resources!

Chasity Opphile

Chasity is the Youth and Outreach Coordinator at Christ UMC in Newcomerstown, Ohio. As part of that position, she is the youth pastor for Meta Student Ministries, a community wide, student led youth ministry, that takes place at Christ UMC. Chasity is most passionate about empowering and equipping teens and young adults to make a difference in the world through the life changing power of Jesus. She is also pretty passionate about hanging out with her awesome husband and family, mission work to Cuba, traveling, books, all things Spanish and cooking. You can follow her on Instagram @chasopp.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.