How to Minister to Youth as a Christian OR Why Teenagers Leave the Church
Wake Up Call: Teen Statistics
Teenagers and Church
It is said that a church is always one generation away from being non-existent. If they are all the same age, it doesn't matter if a church converts a million members, once they get old and die, the church will die as well. Reaching teens and young adults is essential for any churches growth. But more importantly than that, sharing the love and excitement that comes from a sincere relationship with God is something that teenagers need and subconsciously long for.
What can you do to make a difference? How can you share and evangelize to this demographic that constantly battles with life's challenges, struggles and discovering who they are?
The answer may be simpler than you think, but require far more work than you hope to do.
Why Teenagers Say They Leave the Church
The Barna Group did a study of teenagers and concluded the following six reasons that teenagers state for why they decide to leave the church. They are as follow:
- Churches seem overprotective: Teens live in a world with full access to technology and life as it is, but church seems fear-based and risk-averse.
- Teens' and twentysomethings' experience of church is shallow: The feeling is that church is not relevant to their lives. It has no meaning or benefit to them personally.
- Churches come across as antagonistic to science: This argument has been true since the Inquisition. The church feels that it needs to have all of the answers and teenagers aren't stupid - they know when someone's ego is so big that they cannot admit to being wrong. This turns teenagers off to God.
- Young Christians' church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental: With a constant bombardment of seductive and passion-filled media, teenagers struggle with the demands of the church to be sexually pure. The statistics for Christian teens are about the same as those of their non-Christian peers when it comes to sexuality - one out of six (17%) of Christian teens feel that they have made a mistake and have been judged by the church because of it.
- They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity: Many teens struggle with the idea that all of these good people from other backgrounds are not as good because they are not Christian. This generation in America is more diverse, culturally aware, and technologically savvy than any prior generation. Questions arise: Is Mahatma Gandhi not going to Heaven? Will my Muslim friend miss out on Paradise? Teens struggle with this idea.
- The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt: Teens are asking questions. Despite their belief that they know everything, they doubt a lot. Many feel that church does not allow them to question their faith and provides lame, forced answers to their questions.
These are all reasons that teenagers have stated why they leave the church. They are all very real, and all very serious. However, from my personal experience as a teen, as a minister to youth, and through my reading, I have discovered that these six reasons are all related.
The Core Reason Why Teenagers Fall Out Of Love with God
While these six reasons above are all great discussions about why church appears irrelevant to teenagers, the core desire of Christians should not be to keep youth in church, but to keep youth connected with God. After all, someone can be a member of a church without having a relationship with God. Additionally, as someone grows in their walk with Christ, they will seek out the true church (which I am sure that you are confident is your church).
So, why is it that teenagers lose their relationship with God?
Because they have few, if any, good role-models to follow.
Most churches are filled with people who sit in a pew for one hour a week with a stern look on their face, napping by the end of the service, and state that they are so happy because of this love that they have for Jesus.
Teenagers are NOT stupid! They know how to laugh, how to fight, how to cry. They know what it means to be passionate. Watching old men picking their noses in the front row is not happiness - and these youth know that (as should you).
Teens need to know what having a relationship with God actually means, and what actually happens when that relationship develops. This is the role of each church, and each church member, in revealing the love of God with youth.
Teens Want to be Real
Teenagers want to be real. They want to be around passionate people. You cannot have a mediocre relationship with Christ and sell teens on it's value. You must first fall madly in love with God yourself. Your passion is what makes others passionate.
What Being a Good Role Model is NOT
Too many people think that being a good Christian means that you are a polite, boring human being. Christianity has a tendency to emasculate men - which causes both young men and women to struggle with finding the passion they want in life.
The world reveals all kinds of fun in parties, drinking, drugs, and sex. Adventure abounds for those who throw their passions to the wind. Meanwhile, those who follow God end up being trained to sit quietly, never do anything risking, and avoid disagreements.
While some churches attempt to shape youth into the boring people that they have become, others strive to become youth friendly. Missing the point entirely. Rather than trying to help these youth learn what it means to have a relationship with Christ, they make church into a glorified coffee shop with a rock band. Sure, this will get people into the building for the free food and fun with friends, but it will not nurture a relationship with God.
Steps to Become a Christian Role-Model
- Spend time with God every day.
- Take risks for God: If you believe he's real, be confident that he can take care of you.
- Seek out your struggles and be open about them. Others feel accepted by those who have their own challenges to overcome.
- See others as Jesus: Take time to volunteer and share Christ's love through your actions.
- Initiate conversations with youth, don't wait for them to initiate conversation with you. Joke around and have fun. If you don't know what to say, just smile - and keep smiling, regardless of their response.
- Stay in constant connection with Christ throughout the entire day.
How to Be a Role Model for Christian Youth
Are you ready to learn what it takes to attract youth to Christ? The answer is simple. In fact, it is far simpler than you might think:
Have a personal relationship with Christ yourself.
You cannot tell someone to have a relationship with someone who you don't even know yourself.
What?! "But I am already a born-again Christian and I have been going to church for 40 years! If anyone knows God, it's me."
That's exactly your problem. Well, that's at least the churches problem. Too many people are more interested in pointing out the splinter in someone else's eye than trying to get the board out of their own (sound familiar? If not, you definitely need to read the Bible more).
How much time are you spending with God every day? Have you given your life to Jesus today?
Most Christians spend more time watching sports, admiring Hollywood, and looking through glamour magazines than they do learning about their Savior. You know, your actions and words are the fruits of what you truly love. You cannot convince youth to love God more than the world if you are not doing it yourself.
Are you catching the point of what I am trying to say? You will evangelize what you love. Teenagers notice fakes. Don't think that you can be more excited about the world than God and still be able to convince others that going to church makes you incredibly happy.
Reason to Love
"Even when church was boring, I knew that God was not. My grandfather lived a life that revealed the excitement and adventure that comes when someone has a passionate relationship with Him."
What's Kept Me Passionate About God
Although my personal relationship with Christ is continually a battle, the reasons that I am a twentysomething who not only loves God but believes in my church, is because I have had amazing role models.
I can say that one of the most valuable role models in my life has been my grandfather, who just recently passed away. You might ask how an old man is able to make God interesting - after all, it is often older people who make Christianity boring. Well, let me tell you why my grandfather kept me passionate about God.
Born to a missionary family in China, my grandfather dedicated his life to serving God. Not as a pew-warmer, but as a warrior. Through his childhood in China, where one of his eyes was literally poked out because he ran with scissors when he was two years old, to his years as a doctor in the US military, and eventually a missionary doctor, hospital administrator, and preacher in Korea and Singapore, my grandfather revealed how a relationship with God is not a walk in the park, but a war to be fought.
My grandfather has stories of being rescued from Japanese bombers before WWII, having his father taken captive by Chinese communists, being accused of being a communist in South Korea, being shot at, stranded in storms while crossing the Pacific, and ultimately passing away because of a slow muscle deterioration disease known as inclusion body myositis.
Throughout all of this, he remained faithful to God. My grandfather's life revealed to me the adventure that comes from a sincere relationship with God. Yes, I have experienced countless weeks where church was boring. However, I never associated a boring church with a boring God - I knew that those who sought to live extremely for God found the reason for living.
"Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" Matthew 10:39.
Keeping Youth Connected with God
If you want to keep your kids, friends, or students in church, you must show them why living for Christ is worth it. Do not make it safe, but make it necessary. Teenagers what adventure and God has intended our journey with him to be just that.
James Bond, Indiana Jones, Paris Hilton. They all live crazy lives that make life exciting. However, they ultimately focus first on themselves.
What the world needs are adventurers who love God and love their fellow man more than themselves.
This kind of adventure is contagious. This kind of adventure is exactly what God desires of us. This kind of adventure will keep teenagers in church. This kind of adventure will change the world.