Friday, January 31, 2014

Christians, We Are Losing Our Youth!

Seventy percent of our churched Christian youth leave our local churches by high school graduation.

Yes. This is no exaggeration. This figure is based on my research and on observation of the behavior of the young people I have seen in various parishes. It is based on my own personal experience. We Christian parents give birth to our children, pray for them, teach them about God and Christ, send them to Sunday School and youth groups, and may even pay to send them to Christian schools, or home-school them. Yet another, pretty well-known but most unsettling figure is this: Only 6 percent of those youth who don't convert to Christ by age 18 will come to know Him in later life. Scary!

Why Are We Losing So Many of Our Youth?

The reasons are varied and complex. The influences of the culture are pervasive and powerful, so much so that they actually seem to influence and shape our young people more than the family and the Church do. The media are number one, in my opinion, with our children and teens being influenced by TV, computers, mobile devices, and social media. Then there are celebrities, and these are often NOT stellar role models, people like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. We have TV and magazines drilling it into our youth, especially girls, that life is about the pursuit about the body beautiful. All of us are much influenced by the materialism of our culture, and this includes our young. Children and teens in public schools are more affected, but those who are blessed to be home-schooled or sent to Christian schools do not escape. Teens get the idea, sadly, that sometime after confirmation (which is a tradition in many parishes), they "have had enough religion." But there is several factors that we tend to overlook when we try to "figure out" why we lose so many youth from the Church.

What Are We Missing?

It is absolutely essential to pay attention to all the factors above and for we Christian parents and the Church to teach youth Christian values that are counter-cultural but Biblical. But I have learned some things from my own experience, from observation, and from research. That is, that our local churches fail youth in key ways. First, Sunday School and youth groups fail to rightly divide Law and Gospel, emphasizing Christian behavior more than God's forgiving grace. How is this done? We tend to focus on the virtues of popular Bible heroes MORE than stressing God's love and grace in pursuing and choosing these heroes and stressing that their stellar lives are the RESULTS of faith in a gracious God and NOT the cause of HIs favor toward them! Children and teens get turned off by a graceless rules-based presentation because they feel heavily burdened. We are to, first, let children and teens know that God loves us, gave His Son for us, and through trusting Him, being good is the result of knowing Him. Yes, behavior matters and we should stress it. The way God is presented, Christianity is confused with man-made religion. Second, we fail to disciple our youth by modeling Christian attitudes and behavior, and showing them how to do the same. We send them to fun youth groups, which are fine. But when there is no system of integrating them into congregational life, they may no longer feel "part of the church." Guess what? They often exit the back door! Then, third, we fail to show them how to think for themselves and not sallow the culture's false values.

Therefore, most of them conclude that they want no part of this institution we call "the church!"

What Can We Fix This?

I'm the first to say that it is NOT easy to be a part of the solution to this horrific issue of losing so many of our youth out of the Church. First, we need to pray for our youth, that God woo them with His seeking love, and not content ourselves with them being "good kids" who get good grades, go to church or youth group, and "cause no trouble." That is, we should NOT be content with our children and teens grow up "following the rules" and being outwardly "Christian" without knowing Christ. All children need Jesus as Savior, and we need to prioritize them having a faith relationship with God. Second, we need to model Christian attitudes and behavior and show them how to act the same. Third, we are to show them how to think for themselves. Yes, all this means time, wisdom, courage, and sacrifice. Like anyone, I'm on a learning curve here!

But aren't they worth it?

The above photo is courtesy of MorgueFile, by "Keyseeker," and can be found here.

This is a valuable resource for parents and churches who want to know how best to reach our youth.

The Center for Parent-Youth Understanding.

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