It was back in 2011 that researcher David Kinnaman told us that “nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15” in his book, You Lost Me. More recent research says that 70 percent of teens will stop attending church after graduating from high school.
Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that for those who do continue to stay engaged with the church, a growing number embrace a kind of faith that doesn’t look anything at all like the faith Jesus calls His followers to in the Scriptures. Researcher Christian Smith calls this new kind of faith “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Our kids believe there is a God who created and watches over the world. He wants people to be good and kind. The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about one’s self. When things go bad, God is there to serve us and fix our problems. And finally, good people go to heaven when they die. Sadly, this new-fangled faith of our adolescents isn’t Christian faith at all. And, I wonder how much of our youth ministry strategies, priorities, and teaching have facilitated this kind of “faith”. . . even when we know it’s something that we’d never want our students to embrace?
How can we correct this dangerous course for our kids? Nineteen-year-old Sara Barratt is a Christian teen who is deeply concerned about the exodus of her peers from the Christian faith and the church. She recently wrote an article directed to parents and church leaders, ”4 Things Teens Need From Your Church,” which offers sound advice that we can act on to steer the ship in the right direction. Consider each of Sara’s suggestions, and then evaluate how you and your youth ministry are doing.
- We need to hear the Bible. The Bible contains answers to the deepest yearnings and questions facing teens. We must read it to them, read it with them, and train them to read it for themselves. Pray that your teens would have a deep and growing hunger for God’s Word.
- We Need to Hear About Sin. We live in a culture where we are encouraged to build our kids’ self-esteem through constant praise. But what often gets lost in the noise of praise is the reality and depth of our sin and brokenness. Sara reminds us that “only when we’re staring the depth of our sin in the face can the full power of forgiveness and grace be unleashed.”
- We Need to Hear Biblical Truth on Cultural Topics. The cultural narrative is an ever-present, compelling, and attractive guide which speaks on all issues of life. Sara reminds us that her peers/our kids are learning about sexuality, abortion, depression, anxiety, and suicide in ways that are incredibly confusing. The Bible speaks to all these things and more. Teens need to know God’s order, design, will, and way on these hot-button topics. And youth workers. . . don’t be afraid to tell the difficult truths about how the culture gets it wrong. Sometimes I think we soften the truth out of fear for “losing” kids.
- We Need to Hear About Radical Transformation – and Obedience. Sara says, “Teenagers need a Gospel and a theology that will outlast shifting sands and temporal feelings. We need to build our house on the rock of Jesus Christ.”
Youth worker, take stock of your plans for this coming year. Are you poised to lead and nurture kids into a real and vital faith?