It’s a common part of each generation in Churches all over the western world. Children are drawn into a youth program, through either parental or peer influence and they hang around through high school, but then soon after University commences they take off.
Much of this is due to having a bit more independence and freedom. Some of it is an allurement to academia or career – e.g. a particularly winsome lecturer in Philosophy 101 that convinces them to be libertarian and throw off the shackles of religion or suddenly having a pay packet and not being able to resist the urge to blow it all every weekend on partying.
Churches have bemoaned this migration for years. A lot of time and money is spent trying to develop programs and strategy’s to “keep” them. Is that the right attitude? Are you sure you want to keep them? What of those who stay? Why do they stay? Is it because, the Church in question is doing something right or well enough for them to stay?
Jon Nielson, a senior high pastor at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, blogged on this recently and suggests 3 key reasons youth will stay. Something all Churches should consider and investigate further.
1. They are converted – not just compliant
We youth pastors need to get back to understanding salvation as what it really is: a miracle that comes from the glorious power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.
We need to stop talking about “good kids.” We need to stop being pleased with attendance at youth group and fun retreats. We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them.
2. They have been equipped, not entertained
If I have not equipped the students in my ministry to share the gospel, disciple a younger believer, and lead a Bible study, then I have not fulfilled my calling to them, no matter how good my sermons have been. We pray for conversion; that is all we can do, for it is entirely a gracious gift of God. But after conversion, it is our Christ-given duty to help fan into flame a faith that serves, leads, teaches, and grows. If our students leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them. We have entertained, not equipped them . . . and it may indeed be time to panic!
3. Their parents preached the gospel to them
It’s not uncommon for church-going parents to blame church leadership for failing when their little Johnny or Jane follows the call of the wild and opts to party instead of bible study.
As a youth pastor, I can’t do all this. All this equipping that I’m talking about is utterly beyond my limited capabilities. It is impossible for me to bring conversion, of course, but it is also impossible for me to have an equipping ministry that sends out vibrant churchmen and churchwomen if my ministry is not being reinforced tenfold in the students’ homes.
Kids from wonderful gospel-centered homes leave the church; people from messed-up family backgrounds find eternal life in Jesus and have beautiful marriages and families. But it’s also not a crap-shoot. In general, children who are led in their faith during their growing-up years by parents who love Jesus vibrantly, serve their church actively, and saturate their home with the gospel completely, grow up to love Jesus and the church.
Youth Leaders, Pastors, fearful parents, find out what you are doing right with others who stayed. Chances are it will be all, or a combination, of these three points. Most of all, preach the gospel to your kids – not a moralism that says, “Good boys and girls come to Church.”
What else is your Church doing right that others can learn from?