I hear about kids being on their cell phones during youth meetings and ignoring what is going on. I have not had that experience. It could be because we have smaller group (15-20) and they are far more noticeable in a small group, so they don’t risk it. I also think there are a few things that I do, intentionally, to keep kids from checking out on their cell phones and they may help you as well.
I work hard on my messages
If kids are checking out on me, it’s because I’m not saying anything interesting. I work hard only messages so they will be engaging, thought provoking, and sometimes interactive. I want every kid to be invested in what I am going to say, but more importantly, I want them to know that the Holy Spirit has something to say to them.
I make eye contact
I don’t use notes any more, I use the slides I create as my notes. If I buries in my notes, that gives kids permission to be distracted and check out.
I walk around
Once again, if your group is larger, this may not be an option, but if I see someone talking or I see two kids sitting together that looks like they are Russia and the U.S.A colluding to make trouble, I walk over and speak right in front of them. This lets them know I am aware without being rude or calling them out.
I ask them questions
So, I just said I don’t call kids out, and I don’t, but, the next best thing is to ask a question. I try to make the question and honest one, that has to do with the message, and I watch my tone of voice so they don’t think I’m being mean. I am genuinely trying to snap their attention back to what’s going on rather than trying to embarrass them (btw, this does not work).
I get them involved in the message
I love illustrations. I love getting kids up and letting them help me make my point. Kids could help you by holding signs (your points) or by acting as props (you be Jesus and you be Peter, etc.) and have them act our the story as you tell it.
I also have kids ready to read scripture so they can’t veer to far from the notes otherwise they will be unprepared.
I have them use their cell phone in positive way
If I think someone is having a problem with their cell phones, I ask them to help with my message. I ask them
- Would you take notes tonight so I can see how effective I am
- Can you take some pics of me preaching for the website or social
- Can you make a few memes
I know this sounds crazy and even counterintuitive, but I find that kids would rather feel useful than just sit and listen to me. If we are measuring how good we are by how well kids sit quietly, pay attention, and fawn over our presentation I am afraid we all lose. I
I foster mutual respect
I have never had to take a kids cell phone away during service. If I think their is a problem, I will talk with kids during the week or after serve and let them know I love them, I saw them on their cell phones and I ask them “What can I do to help you get more engaged?” or “Hey, I know your cell phone is important, but I really need you to be an example to others” . How I approach them depends on my depth of relationship with them, but it is always respectful.
So, what distracted kids before cell phones? Everything else. Their friends, some thing they fidget with, etc. At least today, we can use these distractions and turn them into tools of engagement.
Cell phones are not the issue. Our attitude towards cell phones, and sometimes the kids who use them, are the issue.