Losing Our Youth
By Jayne Schriver
For over 2000 years, Christianity has been engaged in a war to convert and spread its gospel to as many followers as possible, but unless the church gets better at protecting the already saved, they are going to lose the battle and the war!
Daniel and Kathy are two such casualties. Both were raised in loving, Christian homes with all the requisite Sunday church activities, Bible study groups, and meaningful parental discussions about their religious beliefs and foundations. Both were baptized and validated as ‘good’ Christian children, but by the time they were off to college somehow, that all changed. They both discovered the peer pressure that comes along with being on their own for the first time in their lives and having no boundaries except those that were self-imposed. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a prescription for spiritual disaster for both of them, and, ultimately, a significant loss for their church.
How can this happen to so many of our future potential church leaders? Statistically, almost 96% of children raised in the church are leaving it by their late teens never to return. Perhaps some have been casualties of some type of emotional or physical abuse that occurred at church. Some could have felt that their prayers have gone unanswered leaving them with a feeling that God is either uncaring or doesn’t exist. Others have been influenced by the over-riding humanist and secular views that most of our colleges now promote, destroying their religious foundation. These are just a few reasons that the church is losing the battle of retaining its youth, ultimately, losing the war of expanding the church.
This brings us to the obvious question. What can the church do to ensure that our young people continue along the path that their parents and the church so lovingly nurtured them along?
1. Churches need to provide a bridge from the secure religious and community life to the new frontier of adulthood that many graduates will face.
Some cutting-edge college campuses are providing student ministry activities sponsored by local churches in their area. When checking out college campuses with their children, the wise parent will make sure that they are also checking out what kind of spiritual support is provided for students, and will actively encourage their young adult to join and get involved in these activities. There their student will meet young adults with their same spiritual ideals, morals, and goals. There is always safety in numbers. It is harder to succumb to peer pressure when you have a network of friends that share your same beliefs and morals. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7).
2. The church needs to make sure that they are not just entertaining their young adults with programs designed to bring them into the church.
While it’s great that some youth pastors are very creative in their approach to get the attention of the youth in their community, they need to make sure that they are sufficiently feeding and nurturing the spiritual growth of their young people, providing them with the firm foundation they will need to withstand the spiritual attacks that they will face when they are on their own. Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
3. The church needs to be willing and able to discuss topics and decisions that our young people are being faced with every day like sex, homosexuality, drugs, divorce, pornography, and war.
So many of our pastors and leaders are so concerned with being politically correct they avoid these topics altogether, leaving our young people confused and seeking answers from other sources. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Tit. 2:12).
4. Churches, whether large or small, must do a better job of screening for possible child abusers of every type, preventing them from having free access to our children or interacting with them in positions of authority.
Most people never think of this as a possibility in their congregation or their community, but one only has to check reports of abuse from priests, scout leaders, and well-respected teachers in the community to understand that this is a very real threat to the safety and well-being of our children. Church and church-related activities are no exception Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you (Prov. 2:11)
5. Neither churches nor parents can assume that the other is teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that the child can relate and internalize these values.
Regardless of age, parents should be aware of what is being taught to their children in church, and they should have regular discussions at home to reinforce these teachings. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5).
6. When a family or community tragedy occurs, the church is usually the first to offer a helping hand to meet needs or comfort the distraught.
But, often times, children are not specifically targeted with this healing support, so they may fall into a state of blaming God for whatever has occurred. Most children do not have the psychological or emotional tools to work through this sort of situation without intensive guidance. Churches need to make sure that they have protected their young from falling into this negative trap. Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mk. 10:14).
Churches need to join forces with parents and start cultivating ways in which they can be assured that their young people do not become one of the statistics. The church must win these battles and this war. If they do not, future generations of Christians might just disappear.