Goal: Our goal was to provide our 6-8 grade students with a worship experience that was tailored to their age group, desires and needs.
Our Blue Jean Shabbat service runs concurrently with our main congregational service and 6-12 grade students are invited to attend. Our teens are invited to come as they are from school (jeans, uniforms, school clothes, etc) and bring friends from the community. Our service is led by teens and teen song leaders that have been studying in the song leading class offered in our 8-12 grade religious school program. The Director of Lifelong Learning and I [Barrett Harr, Director of High School and Youth Programs] are there to help guide them and to offer a short d'var Torah that is accessible and related to things in the teens' lives.
The service occurs on the second Friday of every month. We've found that this regularity helps the kids fit it into their schedules. The service is counted towards their service requirement for religious school/b'nei mitzvah. We often meet in a secondary worship space, which is not utilized by the main service, but have also met in classrooms or other spaces, depending on the other things happening in the congregation. We seat the students in an informal way, chairs in a circle, sitting on the floor, all close together, depending on what the space permits.
The prep work has been minimal. We have created a song leading class to help foster the development of future song leaders, and the service is publicized via Facebook, the temple bulletin, weekly newsletters and flyers at religious school. It has quickly grown from a few families who regularly attend services to a regular community of 25-35 teens. They have now all started going out to dinner with their families as a group after services and started inviting everyone to join them.
Explain how the program did or did not help you reach your goal:
This program has been a wonderful addition to our school and our congregation. We are regularly seeing teens at services, helping them easily meet their service requirements in a fun way, and building community amongst our teens.
Number of potential participants: 80
Number of actual participants: 35+
How did you measure success?
Our teens have now begun to step up and plan the dinners after services; started asking to lead the services and pick themes for the upcoming services; and they promote the theme and service without prompting. Their desire to attend the services and take ownership of it is a clear indicator of success.
What did you learn from this program?
Our teens are not too busy to come to services on Friday night. Rather, they simply need a space in which they feel recognized and comfortable as congregants themselves, not just the children of congregants. Given this space, they will come; bring their friends; take on leadership roles; and become a vibrant part of our congregation.
Did you make any changes after your initial foray into this program? If so, what were they?
Yes. We switched our services to the second Friday of the month instead of the third at the request of several families. In addition, we have begun to offer our song leading class year round instead of only in the fall and spring; this gives more students the opportunity to participate and benefit from this class.
If you could run the program again, what changes would you make?
We will run the program again with minor tweaks, such as having more students give the d'var Torah. Plus, this year we are adding themes to each service, as the teens have asked more opportunities to delve into topics about which they are passionate.
Is there anything that would be important for another congregation to know if they were to implement this program or something like it?
This program must be run by people who like teens and genuinely value their input and participation. If a congregation offered a service without letting the students feel as if they own it, it would likely be less successful.
How much did it cost the congregation? How much did it cost the participants?
This program is virtually free. Since the service is run by our staff people and a volunteer song leader, the only expenses have been for flyers to promote the monthly service.
What were the roles/responsibilities of the people implementing the program?
This program requires only a small (but dedicated!) number of people and their roles and responsibilities can be divided and shared, but we feel that having more people involved gives our teens more opportunities to connect with charismatic Jewish adults. The teens often form relationships with the adults, and feel comfortable reaching out to them in times of need.
The three main staff positions are:
- Song leader: works with our students during our religious school classes as well as during Blue Jean Shabbat to mentor upcoming song leaders
- Director of Lifelong Learning: serves as our gabbai, facilitating prayers and often giving the d'var Torah.
- Director of High School and Youth programs: does all PR work, tracks student credits, finds and recruits student leaders and handles all logistical arrangements, like challah, juice, prayer books, music stands, etc.
RESOURCES: Blue Jean Shabbat promotional flyer
This summary is part of the Campaign for Youth Engagement, which endeavors to address the challenges of engaging teens and families post-b'nei mitzvah. To read others like it, search keyword "youth engagement."
To learn more about the Campaign for Youth Engagement, visit the URJ's Youth Engagement website or connect with a Youth Specialist.