This past Saturday, I attended “The Gathering,” with five other youth leaders from our church. It was a training/conference put on by Berea. This year, the main speakers were Sharon Ketcham (Gordon College) and Reggie Joiner (Orange/reThink). While they somewhat came from two different points-of-view, they both had the goal of helping churches change the staggering statistics of the number of teens who walk away from their faith and the church once they graduate high school (and youth group). Their points boiled down to these three main concepts:
Involvement in the Church
One of the issues with many church youth ministries is that they have a great program for teens, but they are not always encouraging the students to get involved in the entire life of the church. Actually, there are some churches who are even opposed to teens serving at all, let along outside the youth group. If we are going to help change the statistics, we need to help teens understand the importance of being involved, and we have to help them understand what roles they can play. At RCC, this starts with a “spiritual gifts inventory” test that we have our high school leaders take. This helps them identify some of the abilities God has given them. Then, we help them try out different ministry roles. Sometimes it works out, but other times, they realize that is not where they belong. If needed, we try again with something else. This is a similar approach we take with our adults. If all goes well, they will realize they are a vital part of the church and not just a teen who attends youth group. The goal is to help them understand this before they graduate, so they will begin craving it no matter where they go for college or work in t he future.
Churches Need to Partner with Parents
If you have been reading my blog over the past couple years, you will not find this as a completely new concept. It is the thought behind Orange. However, this might be the first time I’m writing about it in connection with helping teens now “graduate” from their faith and the church. As with the other concept, this starts when the student is still with the church, before graduating. Churches can do all they can, but the reality is that parents have more time with their kids than the church, so we need to help parents do the best they can. We need to provide resources, we need to be on the same page, we need to pursuing the same goals, we need to champion the parent-child relationship, and we need to support parents in their effort to offer spiritual direction for their kids. Honestly, a teen may not step foot into our church building ever again once they graduate high school, but they probably will keep in contact with their parents. As youth leaders, we need to make sure we take care of our parents, loving them, and supporting their efforts. One way we do this at RCC is through our monthly parent group, where we tell them what we are teaching that month, and we suggest questions they can ask at home to carry on the discussion.
Develop a Strategy
We need to develop a plan for out ministry to teens. Too many churches approach student ministry so lazily. I am thankful to my youth ministry professor, Rondel Ramsey, for teaching me this early on in my ministry career. Reggie suggest a list for “What students need to know.” He didn’t say every church’s list should be the same, but he said this was a good place to start, and I agree.
- God’s love is bigger than religion.
- I will be present even if you never believe what I believe.
- No one’s faith is 100%. “If you don’t allow them to process their own doubt, they will never own their own faith.”
- I am not trying to change you.
- The Bible is not just a good book.
- I want to help you discover a bigger story.
Sure, there are many other ideas out there, and I am definitely not saying that these are the only three keys to keep teens in the church. What I am saying that these are three great ways to start moving in that direction. We are in the beginning stages of offering more for our college-aged students at RCC, as well, so expect more insights and stories later this year on that. Until then, let me know what has worked at your church and student ministry. What has aided in your effort to change the statistics?