Digging Deeper | Keeping Young People in the Church
What is causing young people to leave the church? My thinking is based on the fact that I'm a pastor myself and I work with so many pastors and leaders and parents. I think a lot of it comes down to hypocrisy. I don't like that, but I think it's the reality that kids are growing up and they are looking at their parents, they are looking at their teachers, they are looking at their pastors, they're looking at people in the congregation that are saying one thing and living another. So as they grow up and as real life hits, they start wising up a little bit to the fact that maybe this isn't his real; maybe it's just a game.
I think there could be several things that contribute to this but, the first two things that came to my mind were hypocrisy and disillusion. Do kids see too many hypocrites in the church? As I even write this, I've got to look inside my heart and make sure that I am not being a hypocrite; that I am being real; that I am authentic. I need to make sure that I am not preaching something that I am not living, I'm not teaching something or telling something that I'm not going to live myself and am living. A second thing that comes to mind is: I think kids could be a little disillusioned because they aren't connecting the dots between how the Bible applies to their daily life. We've got to make sure that as we teach kids the Bible stories, the Bible doctrines, the Bible principles, the Bible verses, that we are teaching the Life Application that goes with those. We need to be teaching kids how the Bible impacts my Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; how these principles impact our relationships, how the Bible impacts things like science and the human psyche and parts of our everyday life. If there is a disconnect in the mind of a kid between what they’ve been taught and real life, it is going to create disillusionment in the minds of kids. I never want kids to think that what they learn in school is factual and what the Bible says is just a bunch of make-believe fairy tale; I want them to know that what the Bible teaches is factual and it impacts every day of our life. It impacts the way we relate to people, it impacts the way that we spend money, it impacts the way we view the world around us, it impacts the way we interpret history, it impacts our outlook on the future. I’m not sure what's causing the disillusionment, but my gut feeling a lot of it might come back to kids seeing adults not actually living their faith, being hypocrites, and not being sure how the Bible that they've been taught as a kid really applies and connects to their everyday life.
What makes this topic so important? I don't think there's anything more important when you think about the discipleship journey of a child; when you think about a child growing up to know, love, and serve Christ for life. It is hugely important we have this conversation about kids having a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ, (which is what it's all about), and not just going through the motions; not just playing a game, but really having a lifelong relationship. It's going to require mom and dad and the church working together; it's going to require kids understanding how God's word connects to their everyday life. It’s going to require a church that is not being hypocritical; it doesn't mean the kids are perfect, but you know they're doing their best to have a real walk with the Lord. When they mess up, they own it and they talk about it and they celebrate their victories.
There are a lot of kids that are growing up that are champions for Christ, that are making a big difference. They’re not disillusioned because there are some parents and some church leaders and of course, the grace of the Lord and the Lord working in the hearts of these kids, that they are growing up and doing great things for Christ. Praise the Lord!
How can we as leaders start the conversation? First of all, as church leaders, recognize it and own it; don't sweep it under the rug, don't pretend the kids are fine, the church is fine. The reality is that research tells us that kids are leaving the church; they aren’t just leaving after high school, they're actually leaving much earlier like in the preteen years. They're still there; they're warming the pews, but mentally they’re already gone. They’re checking out mentally. A lot of these kids are planning their escape route out the door when they get the chance, so you’ve got to own it and you have got to recognize it, church leaders. Second, you’ve just got to partner with parents any feasible way possible. You’ve got to equip mom and dad. Start with some conversations at Pizza Hut, or a small group Bible study, or a sermon series. Just start having some conversations where Mom and Dad recognize the fact that they need to gauge where their kids are. Mom and Dad at the end of the day need to be led down a journey where they recognize that they are the primary spiritual leaders. It is not the church's job to be the primary; it is the church's job to support mom and dad, but it's the parents job to own it.
How do I equip mom and dad and start having those conversations? As a church leader I’ve got to own it and then I've got to think through as I look at the families of my church, as I look at my community, as I look at my congregation. What can the church as a body do? The good news is that church you can make a difference! You can make a difference and you need to make a difference, so recognize that. If you’re a church leader, if you’re a pastor, if you’re a teacher, if you’re a youth leader or a kids worker; take this very seriously, this whole concept of church parent partnership. I believe this is God's intention and God's intention is not for the church to do it alone. God's intention is not for Mom and Dad to do it alone. I wrote about kids growing up in two gardens. They need the church and they need the home, and when the church and family begin to work together and complement each other and support each other, that plays a huge significance in the discipleship journey of a child. Church leaders, take it seriously. Start looking at your curriculum; you want your curriculum to be bible-based yes, but how is your curriculum doing connecting what you’re teaching with what the parents are doing through the week? I know take-homes go back I think to Noah and the ark. It could be take home; it could be an app; it could be a drive time CD that the parents listen to on the way home; it could be a YouTube video that parents watch with their kids through the week.
What are you doing to take your curriculum and make it a resource for mom and dad during the week? I think as a pastor, we have to address hypocrisy within the church. We’ve got a bunch of little eyeballs looking at us; let's make sure that we are genuinely living our faith. Make sure you are resourcing mom and dad. Most parents understand that they want their kids to grow up loving the Lord and serving the Lord. Most Christian parents want to be good parents, but they don't always know what to do. What are tools we can put in their hands? Find those tools and put them out there and pray that they'll use them.
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