Young teens (11-14s) are a group I think can sometimes struggle with singing. They’re at the stage where they’re often incredibly self-conscious and many are desperate for approval from their peers. They may be tempted to think that singing about Jesus isn’t cool or for them.
But this is such a wonderful age group to invest in. A number will have been brought to church or events by family or keen friends or youth workers, and they’re starting to be faced with the choice: do I stick with this? Is it worth it? Is Jesus worth it?
We need to use every opportunity we have to show them how incredible Jesus and His Gospel is – and one way we can do this is through music and singing.
So here are some things I try to think about when leading music for young teens.
1. Make it fun
in any way you can, make singing a fun and enjoyable
thing to do. 11-14s are particularly helped by a having a full/strong
band (keys, guitar (electric as well as acoustic if possible), bass, and
drums). The barer or weaker sounding the band the more exposed
they’ll feel and less likely to join in. Of course, having a big band isn’t always something youth groups are able to have on a weekly basis, so if you’ve just got an acoustic guitar, try and have it loud enough for them to feel confident to sing up.
Create a contemporary sound where possible. Fun, funky arrangements, drum and bass choruses, synth and maybe even a bit of techno if you’re feeling adventurous! All of which can still be done in a way that shows them that the words matter most. (i.e. work hard to make the arrangement match the words and feel appropriate to the theme. e.g. dubstep over the cross maybe is a no!)
Have a listen to how others do that. Keep finding ways to help them ‘sing for joy to God our strength, shout aloud to the God of Jacob!’ (Psalm 81:1)
2. Think about pitch, speed & content
make sure the language is accessible where you can. Lots of songs and hymns we sing have complex language and are sometimes hard for even us to get our head around. Think ‘would I have understood this as a 12 year old?’
This doesn’t mean we don’t teach young teens theologically rich
songs, but try not to overload a session/service with all content-
heavy songs or complex hymns. It might mean picking a smaller
selection of hymns you want them to know and love well.
Also, weighting your song choices towards the upbeat and lively,
instead of slow and reflective can really help this age group. Again,
that doesn’t mean exclusively singing upbeat ones, but just being
aware that the slower and more reflective a song, the more likely
they’ll be looking around the room awkwardly. That might mean just
adding a bit more movement to a naturally slower song, to help them
sing up. Also, watch a song doesn’t go too high, or they won’t sing out.
I aim for the top note being around a C# if the song doesn’t then go
too low. We want them to be able to sing to each other great truths
about Christ, (Colossians 3:16).
3.Teach them new songs
this age group often know only a small pool of songs. If you run a group for them during a Sunday morning service like we do, they’ll only get the opportunity to sing one song congregationally before they go to their group or a few if they join the service for communion. So they’ll know a much smaller part of the whole church’s repertoire, so as well as choosing songs carefully to think about what songs you want to embed, it’s also really nice for them to learn new songs. It makes them feel ‘in the know’ and part of the church family and helps them see that Christianity isn’t antiquated. Maybe create a playlist for them on spotify of new songs for the term.
4.Explain the big point
clarity with this age group is key. Help them see why this song is worth singing together by summing it up in a short sentence or big idea. They may find it hard to see the big picture of a song, so if you can show them that before singing, you’ll help them grasp what they’re singing. You could share why you love a song, or why it’s exciting, or what it shows us about the Gospel, or the Bible passage it’s based on, or by praying about the main point before or after singing it. You don’t have to say something for every song you ever do, but when appropriate a short, simple thought or prayer about the song is so helpful.
Realistically, I find this a hard age group to get excited about singing (ours sometimes think it would be ‘cool’ to deliberately sing out of tune!), but these years are so worth investing in and their potential to grow is enormous.
So, where you can, help them see that this isn’t just for the kiddywinks or just when they become adults, but that singing together is an awesome opportunity to remember the Gospel together and tell each other and our own hearts that Jesus is better than anything.
Youth and Families Worker
St. Peter’s Church, Harold Wood