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Parenting: YOUTH ARE LEAVING THE FAITH—Who’s Dropping the Ball?

YOUTH ARE LEAVING THE FAITH—Who’s Dropping the Ball?

I am more than a little choked! Though I may not turn over the moneychanger’s tables in the foyer, I have to admit my back is up. Why? A recent survey headlined that “Christian Teens Abandon Faith Because of Youth Groups, Not Despite Them”.

It is sad but true that a growing number of youth are walking away from the church after high school. You are safe to think that more than two-thirds of them are leaving the faith. That is scary. We should be concerned. But those responsible for this recent research place the blame for our kids leaving their faith roots solely and squarely on youth leaders and the programs they run. They contend that youth group is detrimental to the spiritual life of our teens. THAT IS HOGWASH! Just plain wrong! And as a veteran Youth Pastor, Youth Ministry Professor and Youth Evangelist for over 3 decades (the day I wrote this I spoke to 300 plus High School teens), I have a really big problem with the tragic and negligent twisting of the truth.

The Researchers Had a Clear Agenda

The survey is put out by National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, and yes they have an agenda. They believe in trans-generational or intergenerational learning. They believe that there shouldn’t be any age group programming anywhere within the church. This ultra-conservative view holds that everybody must learn together, period. I am all for the church and family working together (part of their mandate) to find better ways to pass on our faith to the next generation with a greater level of effectiveness. Unfortunately, since the twenty-somethings are abandoning their faith at a dangerously high rate, these kids become an easy platform for these researchers to use to push their cause! The reasoning is far too simplistic and unfounded to say the least.

The Questions Are Biased

My perspective is that a bunch of traditional old cronies (my age) were looking for a dragon to blame. I took the survey myself. Only 3 questions are asked. Through their wording, they lead the test taker to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with youth ministry – that it may not be Biblical. Further, they give limited response options to choose from but include that youth groups are worldly, shallow and entertainment focused. It clearly attacks any innovation in ministry as the ‘worldly culprit’ for the demise of our teens. I feel strongly (with my educational research background) that these researchers are not impartial but rather trumping up support for their ideas. They are calling for a grossly militant and reactionary step to shut down all youth ministry in the church. Take the survey for yourself and see –

The Correlations Are Spurious

I totally agree with the idea that the church needs to be doing a better job at coaching parents on how to raise their kids God’s way. That’s NOT what the questions were about. But just because people respond with some concern about youth ministry through a short and prejudiced survey doesn’t mean youth groups are the reason teens are walking from the faith. It’s quite a stretch to say that youth ministry is contrary to the Bible. Most of the research summary focuses on the primary role of parents in training their kids in the faith. No one is arguing. I strongly believe that blame is never the answer. Recovery is. Don’t attack the church – the youth groups, Sunday Schools, Kid’s Clubs, whatever. Rather, address our parenting shortfalls within the nuclear family’s current attempt in passing faith on to our children.

Parents Will Always Be Central

The “Faith at Home” movement and other’s like it is a fabulous step toward putting the responsibility back on the shoulders of parents. Moses nailed the parent’s role in Deuteronomy 6:4-9

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  [Parents], love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
strength. These commandments that I give you today [as parents] are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads [or today, put reminders on your phones]. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates [or today, hang God priority sayings and Scripture in the walls of your home].”

Parents must learn to live and breathe their faith 24/7 and then their kids will have a fighting chance of buying in personally to walk with Jesus after High School. If parents talk about it and don’t authentically live it – kids won’t believe and follow.

The Truth About Youth Groups

At best, a great youth group will supplement and strengthen the faith impact that parents have on their kids. So youth workers don’t kid yourselves. Regardless of how good your ministry may be, parents will always be the primary influence on a child’s life. We’ve come to know and appreciate that 80% of who a child becomes is determined by age 5. They don’t even show up to youth group until they hit the teen years long after their primary life and faith values have been taught and chosen. If kids haven’t bought into a walk of faith in God from their parents before they start attending youth group, it is only an act of God in miracle proportions to have kids buy in later. That’s often why youth work is hard slugging.

When Youth Ministry Is Good

When done right – youth ministry can be a powerful, life transforming influence on a teen’s life confirming and augmenting the already dynamic impact that their parent’s lives and faith have had. One of the hardest things I ever did, as a youth pastor was to try to bring the level of the teen’s faith commitment past the level that they saw at home. They think that if mediocre faith is good enough for my mom and dad, then I don’t need to accept the youth pastor’s challenge to really live a radically surrendered life to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what a good youth ministry will include:

  • Caring Relationships

Every parent should be praying for significant others to model Jesus to their kids. A great youth staff not only radically loves and values the youth but also lives their faith in a vibrant way. Kids will feel it, know it and hopefully want it. 

  • Crazy Entertainment

Youth group is a place to have a blast. It’s a really different fun than in the world around them. It’s a good, clean fun where no one gets hurt or taken advantage of – a fun you can remember the next day. It’s a place to build lasting friendships with like-minded peers. Laughter is contagious. It opens doors and hearts. 

  • Contemporary Music

Face it, music is the voice of every generation. The poets of each decade capture the heart and soul of the culture. We live to our music. Kid’s today are even more addicted to their version of good music. Wise youth leaders have lively, up beat and God-honoring tunes blaring. 

  • Cultural Relevance

Faith must connect to real life. The primary issues facing teens today need to be addressed from God’s perspective – drinking, cutting, eating disorders, dating, drugs, tattoos, depression, sex, friendship, family breakdown, suicide, porn and more. What does the Bible say about these? 

  • Challenging Faith

Youth group needs to be the safest place for youth to ask the hard questions of their doubts. Open discussion about the why and how God fits into one’s life needs to be central. I maintain that we need to dare our youth to take a courageous stand for Jesus right now in their generation. That’s the heart of a great youth ministry. 

So, youth workers, set the bar higher for your ministry. Ask the Lord to do increasingly greater things through your work. Go after changed lives in the teen years. But remember, you are building on the foundation of the spiritual coaching these youth have received for years at home. And parents, wake up again to the reality of your central role in modeling and molding faith up close and personal to your children.

If you are want to learn more about how I feel parents can most effectively “Pass On Their Faith to the Next Generation”, watch my sermon HERE. Remember, the church is only one generation away from extinction if we don’t focus on finding better ways for transferring faith to our children. And I’d love to hear your comments too.


© Dr. Dave Currie – May 2014

Feature Image Used with Permission: © creatista/ ID:13456969