The Sabbath School lesson on discipling children reminded me of a post someone shared with me on Facebook that really hit home.
The article, “Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith” mentions that many (not all) church youth groups help teens connect with each other, but fail to connect teens with the church or with God. When they outgrow the youth group, they leave the church and God, which they never were connected to anyway.
Some youth leaders have even confessed to me that they had no relationship with Jesus themselves, and wanted me to teach the kids how to have the assurance of salvation. The youth leaders connected with the kids, but were not connected to Jesus. That’s why the experience of the younger members ended there instead of going on to lead them to becoming disciples for Jesus.
What we need are more youth leaders who can connect with kids and connect with Jesus. Youth groups can shoot themselves in the foot if they aren’t careful. Some youth groups isolate kids from the church family instead of integrating them into the church.
I once had a 20 year old woman tell me, “I don’t want to go to that church meeting tonight because it will all just be grownups and I want to hang out with kids my age.” The youth group failed this young woman, because at age 20 she still saw herself as a kid instead of identifying herself with the grownups which she now is! She is too old for the youth group, but does not realize that she is now an adult. She is on the outside because she is too old for the youth group and has never been connected to the church family or even with God.
No, the solution is not a young adult group. I am not saying it is wrong to have one, but that there is a problem when a 20-year old does not realize he or she is not a little kid anymore. Putting them in a bracket that is not for children will not fix the problem.
At age 12 Jesus did not become a youth or young adult. He became a man. The term teenager was not even recognized until the 19th century. There were no youth groups, as anyone 12 or older was now a part of the regular church congregation.
I have served in smaller churches with no youth groups, and saw teens thriving in the church family. There was no segregation of the young and old. In one church in West Texas, the bulletin editor was 13 years old, and was the most responsible bulletin editor I’d ever seen. She was home schooled, and if I did not have my sermon information called in before 1 pm Wednesday, she was calling me! She is now married with two children, in her early 30′s and still very active in her church family, and, more importantly, has an experience with God. She never made the transition from youth church to the “real” church, because she was brought up in the ”real” church from the get-go. Unlike the 20-year old woman I mentioned earlier, she sees herself as a grownup and has for a long time. She stopped seeing herself as a little kid back when she was 13 putting the bulletin together every week.
Youth groups, like any other type of Church group, has a nourishing purpose only as it helps young people feel connected to Christ and part of the entire church family, instead of just a part of a little group connected only with each other.