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Introducing the sound of silence in your youth ministry

Do you know what silence sounds like?

It’s a noisy world we live in. We’re bombarded constantly with sounds from cars, our neighbor’s dog barking, crying babies, phones ringing and music playing in stores.

For teens, even more so. They have constant auditory stimuli from their iPod, phone conversations, the racket a huge school full of teens make, games they play or friends they hang out with.

Silence is hard to come by these days. Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton calls silence ‘the fastest disappearing resource’ and he’s on a mission to record and preserve silence before it’s destroyed by man-made noises (look at this fascinating initiative One square inch of silence for instance).

All the noises we have to process all the time can drive you crazy…as it (almost) did author George Michelsen Foy who describes his quest for absolute silence in his book Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence.

We’ve forgotten what silence sounds like.

Yet silence has a power that we should use more often. Especially when the world around us bombards us with so many noises, silence means a complete change of pace, a whole new experience. Letting the teenagers in your youth group or teen small group experience silence may just have some surprising effects, because silence confronts you with yourself and with God.

Silence confronts you with yourself

It’s easy to ignore what’s going on inside of you when there are so many things demanding your attention. But when there’s only silence, we have a much harder time with the quiet voice of our soul, telling us what’s wrong. Sometimes, all teens need to face their issues is some silence, a situation where they cannot drown their inner voices in noise.

Silence confronts you with God

God sometimes yells, but more often He whispers. With all the noise around us, it’s hard to hear and recognize His voice. As an old Christian teen song says: “let me hear Your sweet voice through all the other noise”. You can help teens reconnect with God by offering them silence.

Do your teens know the sound of silence?

Introducing silence in your ministry

How much silence is there in your youth group or teen small group? Are you drowning them in noise as well? If your youth service consists of high-energy worship, followed by an enthusiastic message, followed by more worship and is closed off by drinking sodas in a room where the stereo is on full, you may want to rethink your program. Try and include a moment of silence.

If your youth ministry is a high-noise ministry, your students may rebel at silence first. You may have to introduce it gradually, in small steps and not too long at a time. But you’ll discover that once they get used to experiencing silence, they may actually start looking forward to it.

Here are some ideas to introduce a little silence in your teen ministry:

  • Have students write out prayers in silence for 10 minutes or so
  • Have them do something creative in silence, like make a painting, a drawing, writing a poem or anything else. It shouldn’t take too long at first, because they’ll get bored and start talking anyway
  • Find a print of a ‘Christian’ painting, for instance some of Rembrandt’s Biblical work. Ask the teens to study this in silence and write down their observations
  • Take time for silent prayer in a youth service or small group
  • Before you start praying, just wait 10 seconds or so for the room to become completely quiet. Then pray with hushed voice, embracing the quietness
  • Start small group by asking a difficult question (example: why do you believe God exists?) and asking teens to think about this in silence for 5 minutes, then discuss all the answers
  • Use a ‘lighting candles’ routine to have some silence, for instance in the weeks before Christmas or Easter. Light one more candle each week in silence and have students reflect on the meaning
  • When you ask your teens a question during a small group session or Bible study and no one answers, just wait a little longer. We’ve often become afraid of these silences, because we experience them as awkward, but they may just be what a teen needs to gather his or her thoughts

How much silence is there in your youth ministry? How could you introduce more silence?

[Photo Credit: christopher_brown via Compfight cc]
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