Forming Young Leaders
In the beauty and diversity of the Church, there is a large variety of gifts, talents, languages, and backgrounds that individuals bring to contribute to her mission.
There is also a wide range of ages within the Church community—perhaps even within your children’s ministry programs. Young people of different ages are often brought together in religious education, Children’s Liturgy of the Word, choirs, vacation Bible school, and other programs.
Rather than viewing this diversity as a challenge, we can embrace it for the opportunities it provides us. For example, ministering to a multiaged group gives us the chance to intentionally form leaders in the work of the Church.
Here are a Few Ways You can Nurture Older Children to Become Leaders:
1. Name Older Children as Leaders
Children often internalize the labels assigned to them, whether positive, negative, or neutral. Naming older children as leaders increases the likelihood they will feel connected and responsible to the larger group, empowered to be leaders for the younger children. Bring the older children together as a group and tell them that you would like them to be the program’s leaders. Talk with them about what it means to be a leader and invite them to think about ways their leadership can contribute to the larger group.
Then later, when all ages are gathered for the program, begin by introducing the older children as leaders. If circumstances do not allow for a premeeting with the older children, start your multiage gathering by identifying the older children and naming them as leaders for the group. Briefly instruct the group regarding your expectations for leaders and how younger children should respect the leaders. By naming the role of the older children, you can set expectations and call forth their leadership for the larger group.
2. Establish Expectation
Younger children instinctively look to older children for cues regarding acceptable behavior. Creating the right environment and setting behavior expectations are crucial for the success of any ministry, and the older children are essential allies for this. Connect with your older children about expectations for the environment of your gathering and ask them to help establish the necessary tone for the younger children.
Invite the older children to model appropriate behavior to create the environment you desire and teach them how to invite the younger children to do the same. Given responsibility for the overall environment of the program, the older children will likely rise to the occasion of being positive examples for others.
3. Implement Intentional Mentoring
Assign older children to pairs or groups of three younger children (one older, two younger) as intentional mentors. Remind older children that younger children not only look up to them but model their behavior and attitude. Have mentors position themselves next to their assigned younger partner for activities, prayers, and so forth.
Introduce activities that can take place in mentoring groups, with the older children serving as guides to the younger children.
By establishing the older children as mentors in your multiage group, you will help the older children understand the importance of this role not only in this setting, but in other settings where they encounter young children.
4. Form Leaders of Prayer
Many people, regardless of age, are not comfortable leading prayer. By inviting and guiding older children in the practice of leading prayer for your group, you will be helping them to become confident and comfortable in this practice.
Incorporate a prayer ritual in every gathering and invite the older children and stronger readers to help lead prayer. Assign spoken parts or Scripture passages (provide these ahead of time so the children have time to prepare) and let the older children lead these components.
Invite the older children to model good liturgical practices (such as beginning with the Sign of the Cross followed by a few seconds of silence) and encourage younger children to follow their examples.
Becoming comfortable leading prayer often simply requires practice. Empowered to lead prayer, the older children will gain a skill that can serve the Church for years to come.
5. Empower Reading Buddies
Reading levels can vary greatly in a mixed-age group. Often, participation in activities, music, prayer, and other events requires the ability to read.
Invite older children to be reading buddies for younger children. Before using a Scripture passage or prayer in a liturgical context, invite pairs of older and younger children to spread out and read these texts together. Invite the younger child to read what they can to the older child. The older child can fill in any gaps.
During this process, the younger children should be encouraged to ask questions regarding meaning or pronunciation.
f a text is being read or sung, invite reading buddies to sit together. Have the older child underline the text with their finger so the younger child can follow.
Learning to read takes time and practice. Having a multiaged group creates the opportunity for younger readers to develop their reading skills with the assistance of an older child.
Leaders Today-Leaders Tomorrow
Recognizing the opportunities for leadership in a multiage group can be crucial to the success of any program. Older children have much to offer not only younger children, but the Church as a whole. By intentionally forming older children as leaders, you will be forming the next generation of leaders in the Church and inviting them to actively participate in its mission.
You know what steps you can take to help form young leaders, and why it will strengthen your community—now how will you put it in to practice?
What better way than by building up your parish community through the liturgy?
Kids’ Liturgy is a NEW all-in-one Children’s Liturgy of the Word program with exciting music, readings from the approved Children’s Lectionary, and activities that will engage children of all ages in learning and proclaiming the Gospel!
Plus, Kids’ Liturgy provides ample opportunities for older children to partner with younger ones, and to lead in readings, prayers, and activities.