Our kids are leaving the church!
We’ve all heard the statistics. The number one time people walk away from active involvement in church and their own personal walk with God is following their years in high school.
A wealth of research is out there that provides the proof for this alarming trend, and there are almost as many voices blaming youth ministry for this epidemic. There may be certain common denominators within some churches that lead to the mass departure of young people following high school graduation.
Here are some of my observations based upon my almost 40 years of active involvement in youth ministry:
1. Activity-Based Youth Ministry. If a church’s youth ministry is built upon programs and a variety of seemingly unrelated activities, your graduates will probably walk away after they graduate from high school. Young adults can and will find their entertainment elsewhere. The appeal of amusement parts and all-nighters fades fairly quickly.
2. Program-Based Youth Ministry. Another reason why high school graduates walk away from regular involvement in church is if the youth group has been characterized by the structure of a “boxed” youth program. These canned approaches are, in fact, designed to be terminal program, with a specific and publicized ending point. There tends to be one final step or one top award to earn. The students finish the program and they’re done.
3. Personality-Based Youth Ministry. A common indictment of many church youth ministries is the tendency to center the ministry around the strong personality of an energetic and magnetic youth leader. Strong personalities may attract impressionable high school students, and it seems to make sense for churches to do that – until the inevitable transition between personalities. If the students are attracted to the presence of one strong personality, it will be very difficult for them to transition into the church as a whole without the involvement of another equally-strong personality.
4. Narcissism-Based Youth Ministry. Akin to the “activity-based” model is a narcissistic approach where churches seek to entertain teenagers by providing everything they want. If the kids want to go skiing, they go on ski trips. If the kids want to go swimming; they take them to the beach. This approach will ultimately produce self-absorbed and self-centered graduates who believe the church is all them.
5. Generationally-Based Youth Ministry. I absolutely believe that a ministry that totally separates its’ youth from the overall life of the church is making a big mistake. In the long run this hurts students because they do not develop significant and long-lasting relationships with a number of influential adults which is imperative for teens to ultimately transition into the life of the church.
This article is taken from my new book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church – available in print or e-book at www.bookstore.overboardministries.com. Other resources (PowerPoint slides, video, bibliography, and Bible studies) about this subject are available on my book web site at: www.intergenerationalyouthministry.com.