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How to Minister to Youth as a Christian OR Why Teenagers Leave the Church

Updated on July 29, 2012

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.


Source

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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      PMARTIN 3 years ago

      I wish we didn't worry so much about being "preachy" and PREACH!!! Look, we can say teens are wise but in reality they know what the world has taught them. while we look for non offensive ways to get the gospel across to them--the World is pounding its message into them...or preaching to them constantly. We are in a race to plant seed in their fertile minds. If we're too late or too careful, we lose. a church is where to go to worship and hear the Gospel. the Bible said we have to "hear" the gospel to obtain faith. Too many times Ive seen churches turn into entertainment centers for teens with no Bible reading or humble church work. The reason? We need to attract them before we can change them. Problem is they never got around to the changing part because they were afraid the teens would stop coming. I approached one of our teens once. He contunued to get into the "get saved" line every few months. I asked him if anyone had ever taught him to live the Christian life and he said No. Problem is that for this teen rode to church with a minister for 3 years!! We have to tell teens what sin is and the wages of sin. Tomorrow that teen can be in a drive by, car wreck or drug overdose. One more story..a youth director would always tell girls that boys trick them into having sex. Of course in the church it was the opposite because of "fast" girls. I eventually confronted her that sexual sin is something both teens do and girls need to also confess their sins. It didn't go over well. None the less, get parent on board to back up the program, get kids reading the bible in church and see the Word for themselves and let God work them over--and put them into charity work. If we truly Christ is coming soon then what are doing to get our kids ready now??

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 3 years ago from California

      You are very right Doris! Our own personal relationship is far more important than any of the other aspect. Best of luck on HubPages and I'm sure that you will be writing some great stuff.

    • Doris Dancy profile image

      Doris H. Dancy 3 years ago from Yorktown, Virginia

      I just joined Hubpages today, and I am already inspired. I thought it was going to take some time to decide what I believed to be the most helpful statement in your hub; however, it took no time at all. To be a model for Christ you have to know Him and to know Him, you have to develop a personal relationship with Him. It matters very little the amount of time we spend in pews on Sunday. What is essential is our connection to Christ every moment of every day. When we spend that kind time, there is no problem for both young and not so young to see the model. Thank you for your excellence.

    • Doris Dancy profile image

      Doris H. Dancy 3 years ago from Yorktown, Virginia

      I joined Hubpages today and already I am inspired. Your hub has so much truth that I thought it was going to be difficult to choose the most important point made for me; however, as I continued to read, I found it, and oh, how true it is. If we are to act as role models for young Christians then we have to have a personal relationship with Christ ourselves. It has nothing to do with the amount of time we spend sitting in a pew on Sunday, but it has everything to do with the personal touch we have with Him each moment of every day. Those moments create in us the model that no Christian, young or old, can miss.

    • Blessed Success profile image

      Sandy J Duncan 3 years ago from Kansas City, Kansas

      Thanks so much for this great hub. We have 5 teenagers at the moment so it is near and dear to my heart! I've just joined Hubpages and wrote a piece on Harry Potter and Christian Parenting. I'd love your feedback on it since you have such a hands on experience with the youth culture. Blessings, Sandy

    • PlanksandNails profile image

      PlanksandNails 4 years ago from among the called out ones of the ekklesia of Christ

      Robert Erich,

      The term youth ministry is segregation in its very term. Genuine "youth ministry" is spiritual encouragement and discipleship from their parents. If the parents refuse to provide this, it is the responsibility of a spiritual father, or mother within the church to disciple them. It is not the responsibility of youth ministry, or the youth pastor; you will find no Biblical justification for usurping the responsibility that God has given to parents.

      The youth do need attention and support, but they have been lost in the segregation of a man-made system.

      In a spiritual sense, the youth need to transition from a child to a man/woman of God, from immature to mature, from milk to solid food. They should not be treated as something in between, which only leads to confusion and lukewarmness.

      By continuing in the traditions of man, youth ministry will only continue to scatter the sheep.

    • PlanksandNails profile image

      PlanksandNails 4 years ago from among the called out ones of the ekklesia of Christ

      Robert Erich,

      I don't disagree that a church has a responsibility to the youth, but it is not through youth ministry, or the youth pastor. It is by the mature members of the body who can be spiritual fathers and mothers to disciple them.

      The term "youth ministry" is segregation by its very term. The true function of the church functions as a family. That is why your article is asking questions, but "youth ministry" has proven it cannot answer them. You can become a "role model," but not as an unbiblical youth pastor (title) from the modem man-made church system. The Holy Spirit will not work in system that does not take precedence to God's standard for His people.

      Unfortunately, for those who are in a youth ministry, their role will not hold up to the scrutiny of Scripture. God holds the shepherds responsible for scattered sheep, and says what happens to those who send the youth down a path were they cannot see Jesus Christ.

      The answer is right at the end of you article. It was your grandfather who resonated with you the most and kept you passionate about Jesus Christ. The fruit comes the Biblical role given to the parents, or the spiritual fathers and mothers in the church.

    • Robert Erich profile image
      Author

      Robert Erich 4 years ago from California

      I agree and disagree with your statements PlansandNails.

      Firstly, I agree that there should not be segregation between age groups within a church. You are very right about that. However, I believe that youth ministry is not something that should be ignored - but rather something that should be embraced by all members of the church.

      To often churches expect the youth to conform to their ways of doing things. It would be a good idea for church members to recognize that the youth need attention and support. If they are not getting it at home, particularly from fathers, than by all means, the church has a responsibility to provide it.

    • PlanksandNails profile image

      PlanksandNails 4 years ago from among the called out ones of the ekklesia of Christ

      Robert Erich,

      There are only two reasons why youth are leaving the church. First, the parents are not taking responsibility for nurturing their children's spirituality. Secondly, youth ministries are not a stable environment for youth because it creates segregation. The youths hearts are steered toward their peers, youth pastor, boyfriends, or girlfriends and creates an unbiblical environment. All the New Testament churches were age integrated.

      You will find no evidence of modern youth ministry in the Bible. The Word of God, the duty of the church, and the responsibility of the family are clearly laid out. Fathers have neglected their role as spiritual fathers and the results are apparent. The institutionalized church is trying to fill that void with youth ministry. The only problem is that the youth pastor is non-existent in the New Testament. Youth ministry is usurping the Biblical role of the parent in the body of Christ.

      The modern man-made ideologies of the modern church are not Biblical and that is why youth ministry does not work. The statistics don't lie.

      I would encourage you to watch this documentary on church youth.

      http://vimeo.com/26098320#

    • Robert Erich profile image
      Author

      Robert Erich 4 years ago from California

      I am glad that this article benefited you. I wish you the best as you continue to evangelize.

    • hiwinder profile image

      hiwinder 4 years ago from Western North Carolina

      Thank you. As Sr. Warden of my church, I'm very interested in this subject. Your article was quite helpful.

    • FSlovenec profile image

      Frank Slovenec 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      You are right in this well written Hub. Role model of a real men and women truly serving God, demonstrating their love for Jesus all the time in all parts of a real role model life which is successful... God wants us to be successful in our life this then creates a Christian role model for teens and young adults ..all the time..

    • Robert Erich profile image
      Author

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Thank you very much for your comment Pamela. And I always have much respect for anyone who dedicates his/her life to serving God in ministry. While I believe we are all called to be sincere followers of God, it takes something special to strive to lead this crazy crowd of people. I have no doubt that God will continue to do great things through you and your husband.

    • pamelalord profile image

      Pamela Lord 5 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Robert, very well written and insightful. My husband and I were youth leader and pastor for four years before my husband became the senior pastor. Both required commitment and being real with those we were leading. I appreciate your honesty about your own relationship being a struggle at times. Thank you for sharing. Pamela

    • shelpeare profile image

      shelpeare 5 years ago

      Interesting.

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Thanks Mig053. It is great getting positive feedback from someone with your experience. I wish you the best as you continue on in this field!

    • profile image

      Mig053 5 years ago

      Spot on! I am a Youth Coach in my community near Oxford, England and have been active in church with young people for over 20 years. I agree entirely with your observations. Older folks would do well to remember that sometimes your actions speak so loudly that youth cannot hear what you're saying!

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      I sincerely appreciate everyone's input. It is awesome to see that there are so many people interested in inspiring youth to be all that they can be. I believe that a true Christian experience is something that enhances life to the fullest. Something that could benefit everyone.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

      There is a big disconnect between many churches and the modern world - the risk-averse, technophobic nature of some churches is definitely off-putting for many young Christians. I wish more youth had access to books like the Language of God (by Francis Collins - head of the human genome project and a Christian), to realize that intellect and Christianity are not mutually exclusive! This is a great article, Robert - I'm sharing it with my MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) group.

    • Eric Mulford profile image

      Eric Mulford 5 years ago from Prattville, Alabama

      What a great post! I'm challenged. I'm inspired. I'm motivated. A generation in need of leadership. A generation in need of truth. Might I add a generation with the potential to change the world. Thank you for your thoughtful insights.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      As a person who works with kids and teens I know that they are extremely sensitive to the truth. I also know that there's a lot of difference between having faith and living faith and it's definitely a struggle. The video was incredible Robert, and you followed it up with a great hub. -K

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      Having been interested in "youth" since before I was a youth to now being much older than that, I really appreciate what you've said here. There are lies told in every generation, that the people with exciting lives (because they're following God) are boring. God is not mocked, and the lies fall apart after a while, but meanwhile people find new lies to listen to.

      I hope you will write about your grandfather; sounds like his life would make many articles!

      It is easy to say the Bible is boring when you're not reading it. But when you're reading the wisdom from the most amazing being in the universe, and learning from it, the people around you are going to hear how exciting God is because you can't help talking about it!

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      I'm glad you appreciated! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Collisa profile image

      Columba Smith 5 years ago from California

      Great insights, and thank you for sharing them!

    • Robert Erich profile image
      Author

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Awesome Chrisin, I'm glad you have been inspired. And like you, I continually find myself getting forgetful of my purpose here. I a, continually striving to run back to Jesus after realizing that I've strayed away. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 5 years ago

      Awesome hub, Robert. I like how you (and itsladyo, above) mentioned that crucial fact...teens aren't stupid. They can spot a fake a mile away, and they're looking for something in life that's REAL. And just telling them isn't enough.

      We have to live the gospel, not just preach it!

      Voted up and awesome and turning off the iPad for awhile, cuz I gotta stop and pray that God would take what I just READ and help me DO it more.

      Aloha brah!

    • Robert Erich profile image
      Author

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      @molly: I'm glad you enjoyed the article and have a similar experience yourself. Role models truly do make a difference.

      @itsladyo: that is very wise advice yourself. Thanks for the comment and I wish you the best as you keep working with you.

    • itsladyo profile image

      itsladyo 5 years ago from Savannah Ga

      Absolute great article, as a youth leader myself, I definitely think we need to engage the youth more and not just preach to them but give them some practical lessons as to why the Bible says this or that and focus more on why we as Christians believe what we believe. Our youth are weaker and wiser, and we have to find way to strengthen then and at the same time deal with them as if they do possess some wisdom, explaining various aspects of things to them and share some of our stumbles, failures and even victories, they need to see us a real people, that they can relate to in order for us to reach them.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 5 years ago from The Shire

      Robert, this is very thoughtful and well-written, and I think you're right. The young respond to what's real and true (don't we all?) I had older relatives like your grandfather who lived their creed even in very adverse circumstances, and you're right, they didn't have to preach to inspire. We all live out what we really believe -- consciously or unconsciously. Up and useful!