Over the last 10 years I have noticed three big reasons that older youth quit attending youth events and youth meetings. These are not new, and they aren’t specific to small town ministry, but I do want to share what we can do about it. I have seen some teens who really are growing completely drop out of church and walk away from their faith. And almost without exception, I can trace the start of their problems to one of the 3 reasons below.
- The first reason is having too wide of an age group meeting at the same time. It is pretty typical in most small churches to have 7th grade through 12th grade meet together. In some churches they lower the starting grade for youth down to 5th or 6th grade. How many 6th graders are facing the same challenges as seniors? Typically what happens is that the younger youth feel intimidated and try to impress the older teens. The older teens get bored and frustrated by all the immaturity and quit attending. You end up with a group that is not relevant to the struggles and needs of anyone because the age gap is too wide. What’s the solution? SPLIT THE GROUP AS SOON AS IT IS POSSIBLE. Now I can quit shouting. As soon as the church has capable leadership and resources available, then divide the groups. When deciding how to group ages, consider how the schools are structured in your area. Will students complain at first? Definitely! Will parents pressure you to move their child up or down? Of Course. Hold your ground and you will see the benefits start to show up in increased attendance and Spiritual growth for both groups. And the awesome thing is they will start inviting friends when they know the group is geared toward issues that they are facing and they feel comfortable to share.
- The second reason is school activities. I have seen kids get consumed by school events and activities and gradually pull out of church. I used to get really ticked off every time the school scheduled something on Wednesday nights (this is the Bible belt so Wed. nights used to be off limits to the schools), or any other time when someone couldn’t make it to church because of sports, homework, practice, etc. I now realize that it is somewhat out of my control. What is in my control is to teach the importance of setting priorities and making wise choices. I also use the school activities as an excellent opportunity to build relationships with the teens. I expect a lot out of our teenagers. I think God deserves our best. We are doing youth a disservice if we teach them to skip church every time something comes up at the last minute. If they have procrastinated and not finished their homework before Sunday night, then there are natural consequences. Skipping church should not be one of them. I get frustrated more with parents because they allow their teens to use any little excuse to get out of attending. This does go back to reason #1 though. If the meeting is relevant, engaging and challenging, then typically youth will sacrifice to make it there. It will naturally become a priority. How we spend our time and money shows what our true priorities are in life.
- Reason 3 is jobs. Here is how it typically plays out. The teen wants a nice car. The parents tell them they have to earn it. The teen gets a job working every spare minute in order to pay insurance and help with car payments. They are never seen again at church. Am I being overly simplistic? I don’t think so. I have seen this happen so many times that I have lost count. At the most critical point in the formation of their faith, we put the importance of work and of a nice car ahead of Christ. To the teens who are reading this, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT TYPE OF CAR YOU DRIVE! It’s a car! It doesn’t matter what your friends are driving: it doesn’t matter how cool it looks: what matters is does it get you from one place to the other. I drove a Gold 78 Dodge Omni through high school and college and it didn’t scar me for life. Why work yourself to death just to look cool? Most teenagers will end up wrecking it anyway. To the parents, please think about what type of job your teen gets. Don’t allow them to push church aside just for the sake of making money. The teens years are critical to how they will choose to live the rest of their life. And also think about the example you are setting to the teens. Do you skip church every time you have the slightest excuse? Priorities are caught, not just taught!
Now you may say that youth group is not the answer to all of life’s problems and that it doesn’t hold the key to Discipleship. And I would agree. But in this day and age, the church needs to teach and model what it means to live for Christ. That takes time, and I believe parents need all the help and support that the church can provide. I take youth ministry seriously, because lives hang in the balance. These 3 things are challenges that we must overcome in reaching this generation for Christ.