On Saturday evening, the 13 youth delegates to Annual Conference hosted a panel discussion with Kellen Roggenbuck moderating. For 10 of the 13 delegates, this is their first Annual Conference, and Roggenbuck said, “They have risen to the occasion. It’s been my privilege and honor to work with these youth.” In preparation for Annual Conference, the youth met in groups and created presentations on two main topics important to them: mental health issues, and how churches can get youth more involved in worship.

In talking about how church leaders can get youth more involved, the youth presented statisticsthat they found about their generation, Generation Z. They reported that 96% of Generation Z have smartphones, so it’s important for churches to bring technology into worship, and include youth in the setup. “We don’t always want to ask to do things because we are worried about being shut down,” they said. “Give us responsibilities. Ask your youth to help out. It makes us feel like we have a place.”

Other ideas the youth gave included incorporating interactive sermon portions using technology, such as conducting a live poll during a sermon using an app, or asking youth to look up a definition or concept during a sermon, and having them report the answer at the end.

The youth also discussed their ideas for reaching out to unchurched youth. One delegate said her church has a youth band that’s open to anyone – whether they attend their church or not. “It keeps us involved, gives the unchurched a family, makes them familiar with the church, and makes them more likely to return.”  They also suggested creating intramural sports teams, inviting middle and high schoolers to engage in mission, and offering community service hours to high schoolers. “High schoolers need community service on their college applications; community service is worth its weight in gold.”

The youth also emphasized the importance of discussing mental health issues. According to the statistics they presented, 42% of Generation Z members report feeling happy, and 66% report not feeling confident. “Find something we’re good at, and tell us as much,” they said. “This will boost our self-esteem. We don’t see what we’re good at in ourselves. Help us thrive.”

The youth said all of them have either known someone who has dealt with depression, or dealt with it personally. All of them said they have known someone who has committed suicide in their school. They stressed that it’s no one’s fault that depression happens, and that depression and other mental health issues need to be treated as seriously as physical illnesses.

They all expressed their interest in having discussions on mental health on a regular basis with church leaders. They suggested dedicating sermons to mental health, becoming familiar with local hotlines and resource centers, publicizing camp opportunities in church, and inviting mental health professionals to visit the church on a monthly or weekly basis. They stressed the importance of talking to both kids and parents, to try to de-stigmatize the issues, and to not be judgmental. “If we have depression, we don’t want to be singled out or have special treatment,” they said.

“I see several overarching themes that our youth are trying to tell us here,” Roggenbuck said. “Engage with them. Generation Z needs us more than they let on, and they need us as much as we need them.”