I have to admit that I’ve been saddened about something recently. I’ve been wondering if many student ministries are building more loyalty to their youth programs than they are to the local church.
Let me tell you about two recent experiences. Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak and present my ministry with Vision For Youth in a fairly good-sized church. I preached in both morning services and also taught in that church’s combined (junior high and senior high) Sunday School class. It wasn’t difficult to notice that a significant number of the teenagers who attended that Sunday School class did not attend either morning service. Of course, there could have been several reasons for this occurrence, but I couldn’t help but wonder why those teens weren’t in the church services.
A second occurrence also caught my attention. I was invited to preach in a nearby church that asked me to speak in both their morning and evening services. Following the evening service the church had scheduled a brief business meeting. I couldn’t help but observe the mass exodus of teenagers (and adult youth workers, by the way) who immediately filed out of the service following the closing prayer. I found out later that the teens had been invited to a social event at someone’s home following the service. I confess that I was somewhat startled and confused why the youth workers and students didn’t stay for their church’s business meeting.
Youth workers, please make an honest evaluation of your ministry. Is your church building more loyalty to the youth ministry than to the church as a whole? If not, it’s no wonder a majority of teenagers walk away from church following their days in youth group. (You’ve read the well-publicized statistics on that, I’m sure.)
1. Teach them the importance of the church. Loyalty begins with an understanding of what church is all about. Develop a series of lessons on the church. Perhaps you could take them through Acts, the Epistles, and even the 7 churches in Revelation to give them exposure to what the Bible says about the church. Talk to them about basic ecclesiology and your church polity. There are lots of materials out there to help you with this, but if you feel uncomfortable doing this series yourself, I’m sure your pastor could offer some suggestions to help you.
2. Provide opportunities for them to serve in the church. Loyalty also comes through what some would call “sweat equity”. Give your students practical opportunities to get involved in your church’s ministries and programs. Provide ways for them to serve alongside adults and motivate them to get involved in work projects around the church. People are much more likely to continue in church if they have been actively involved themselves.
3. Motivate them to give financially to the church. I encourage all youth workers to teach their students to give financially to the church. The majority of today’s teens have their own money. Their parents must be involved, of course, but teach them the discipline of giving financially to the Lord and to His church. It’s hard to walk away from so mething after giving financially to it.
4. Expose them to church business and key church leaders. I also believe it is a wise move to give teenagers some basic instruction on how their church works. Why do you have communion? Why do you baptize people? What is the purpose of church business meetings? These are vital questions and your kids should know the answers. It is also a good idea to give your students some exposure to the key leaders in your church – and that starts with the senior pastor. Don’t forget he’s their pastor, too. I encourage youth workers to invite deacons and other church leaders to give their story or testimony to students. Maybe our kids are leaving the church because they really don’t understand it.
5. Help them develop positive inter-generational relationships in the church. Chap Clark had said that if we want our kids to stay in the church after they graduate from high school they will need inter-personal relationships with 6 significant adults other than their parents. How are you doing with that? These adults need to people above-and-beyond our teams of youth workers. I really believe that we are doing our students a disservice if we totally separate them from other generations in the church. We must think this through if we want our youth to go on for God as adults.
These “5 Things” are just ideas and suggestions, but I think they are very practical and workable in a church situation. May the Lord bless you as you seek to implement them into the fabric of your church!