God’s Extravagant Grace… Youth Lesson: The Parable of the Prodigal Son
The parable of the prodigal son is a wonderful reminder of God’s grace and love. God seeks us out and desires closeness with us, even when we make mistakes. Although God is saddened by sin, He promises to forgive us when we genuinely repent. There is nothing we can do that will separate us forever from His love. He wants the best for us because He loves us!
Youth Bible Lesson focus: The Parable of the Prodigal Son
This lesson emphasizes the love and grace of God. Teen students will explore the parable of the “two lost sons” and consider which one might be more like them. The proud angry older son was just as in need of forgiveness as his brother! Students will be encouraged to return to God and trust Him, no matter what. We love because He first loves us and seeks us!
Like all our free youth ministry lessons, we suggest you start your class time with some youth group games. Several activities are suggest below that help teenagers focus on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Passage: Luke 15:1-2; 11-32 The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Target Audience: Middle school and high school students, youth group Bible class at church.
Timing: 45-60 minutes (can be adjusted shorter or longer, depending on chosen youth group activities)
Materials Needed: balloons, Bibles, puzzles
Lesson Opening Youth Group Games and Activities on the Prodigal Son
This lesson describes God’s love and grace, despite our sins and mistakes. It also looks at how God pursues us. We might think that faith is a matter of our seeking out the Lord, but the truth is that He calls to us and seeks us, as a shepherd seeks a lost lamb or a father awaits a wayward son. Consider opening the lesson with a quick game or activity such as one of the following:
- Balloon chase game: Have students form a circle, and begin passing a balloon around. After a minute, place another balloon into the circle and encourage kids to try to “catch” the first balloon with the second. You might even try a third in the mix, if the group is large enough. Have students change direction and “chase” the other way, also. It’s a game of constant pursuit. What might this have to do with God’s love? He is always pursuing us!
- The missing puzzle piece activity: Place students together in groups, and provide each crew with a small puzzle. Each puzzle should have a missing piece or two. Encourage teens to put the puzzles together, and ask what might be odd once they realize a piece is missing.
- Lost and found youth group game: hide a specific item, or several small items, in a designated area, and challenge students to find them.
Transition into the Scripture study component and discuss how God gives us grace. What is grace? Quite simply, grace means getting what we don’t deserve. Because of sin, we deserve death as punishment. But that’s not what we get! Instead, God gives us life through His Son. Invite students to consider how the father in the story had grace, and how God is like the father.
Ask: When have you made a serious mistake? How did you fix or resolve the issue?
Youth Ministry Bible Lesson: The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-2; 11-32)
This story is a fun one to act out with students. Teens can be divided into groups to read the story and create a skit based off of it. You could also have them use homemade or already-made puppets to act, or appoint kids to take on the parts and mime the action as you describe it. Of course, taking turns to read and discuss the parable is an option, as well.
Optional Activity: if time and interest allow, consider incorporating the other two “lost” parables of this chapter, or at least briefly describe them. The lost sheep and coin set the stage for the prodigal son, emphasizing the heart God has for saving each and every one of us. Either way, start off by explaining why Jesus told these stories:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” -Luke 15:1-2
Explain that during His life, Jesus was often criticized by Pharisees for what He did and how. The Pharisees were people who thought that everyone should follow the rules and act “perfectly” all the time. They didn’t think Jesus should be spending time with sinners. Jesus knew that God wanted these “lost people” to come to Him, and He did want to spend time with them. He also saw that the Pharisees were even more lost in their self-righteous pride.
Ask: Who are people that you don’t usually hang out with? Do you think God wants you to spend time with different kinds of people?
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. -Luke 15:11-12
Explain that this was a pretty rude demand the son made. Usually, inheritance wasn’t given until a father died. With this, the son was basically saying he didn’t care for his father, and he might as well be dead! The father knew this wasn’t best for his son, but gave him the money anyway. What do you think he did with it?
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
It didn’t take long for the man to waste all of the money his father had given him, but then he found himself in trouble. There was no food in the land, anywhere! The only job this man could find was feeding pigs, and he was so starved he wanted to eat the slop himself! He was pretty stuck.
Ask: Have you ever suddenly realized something important, or realized you made a mistake? This man sure did!
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ -Luke 15:17-19
So the son decided he would own up to his actions and go home. But he didn’t feel worthy of being called son anymore. He planned to beg his father to take him on as a hired hand, just a servant. He probably thought that his father would be angry and wouldn’t want to forgive him. But he was in for a surprise…
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. -Luke 15:20-24
The father certainly didn’t want his son to be a servant! He saw him coming from “a long way off.” The father had been waiting for his son to come home. He was so excited to see him, it was like nothing had even happened. He rejoiced and called for a party! Jesus wants us to know that this is how God feels about us. No matter what we do or how far we stray from Him, we can always return, and He will welcome us with open and loving arms. God rejoices when sinners come to belief. He seeks out the lost and longs for us.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” -Luke 15:25-32
There’s a final scene to this story, after the celebration has started. The older son did not appreciate what was happening. He didn’t think it was fair that his brother had strayed and squandered money, and was still treated so generously with forgiveness. With this, Jesus was sort of explaining that the Pharisees were acting the same way. It was as though they thought only they should receive grace, or only people who worked hard and were “good enough” should have God’s favor. Jesus wanted them, and all of us, to understand that God loves everyone. We all sin and need forgiveness, and God will give that mercy to all who believe and repent! He loves us and cares deeply for us. We make mistakes, but when we bring them to God, He gives grace every time!
Ask: which son do you relate to in this story?
Maybe you can connect more with the oldest son… sometimes we consider ourselves on the outside compliant, faithful, and obedient. But then something happens to reveal our inner state. Perhaps somebody received something we thought we deserved. Rather than rejoice, we question God’s goodness, we demand what we think is rightfully ours, and we refuse to join God in celebration. We are “lost”, too, and need God’s forgiveness!
Psalm Reflection: Youth Group Discussion and Fellowship
If time allows, follow up the parable of the prodigal son with thoughts on other Scripture passages that describe God’s presence and faithfulness. We see His love and pursuit of us often in the book of Psalms, and throughout the Bible.
Read each passage and consider the questions that follow.
What does this say about God’s presence? Where is He?
What can we do when we do not feel His presence as closely?
How is this passage comforting?
What does the word “steadfast” mean? How do we know God’s love is steadfast?
This passage talks about how God’s ways are much higher and bigger than our ways. Does this mean that He is too high to be reached?
How do we know that God wants us to seek Him? How do we know He is a personal God of relationship?
*How will you practice God’s presence DAILY?
Close: Say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His grace and forgiveness, acknowledging need for Him. Ask for help in trusting Him and leading others to Him.
More Bible Studies on the Parable of the Prodigal Son
- Learn about the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible
- Compare a free children’s ministry lesson about the Prodigal Son
- Compare more Prodigal Son Sunday School lesson activities