How Youth Groups Can Defeat Their Purpose
avatar

The Sabbath School lesson on discipling children reminded me of a post someone shared with me on Facebook that really hit home.

http://www.goodsalt.com/details/dmtag0097.html?r=ssnet

Image © Darrel Tank from GoodSalt.com

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.

Share Button

Comments

How Youth Groups Can Defeat Their Purpose — 20 Comments

  1. Thank you for this piece. There were no children in my age group in the small church in which I grew up. No Pathfinders or Adventurers. I went to Adult Sabbath school and rarely had a quarterly for my age. While the young people's quarterlies were fun, they didn't prompt me to ask challenging questions or teach me spiritual or moral lessons that I didn't already know. I grew in the adult class and was baptized around 12. Let the young people join the adults sometimes.

    Like(12)
    • Wow, God is good hey :) I forgot my church bag at a friend's place, don't have my quarterly, and hence this is the only reason I logged on to the website, without which I would not have come across this article and comment thread...I was neither aware of this issue (I'm in the church 5 years now and still learning a lot organization-wise) and did not know about this youth issue until now....someone mentioned about the youth joining the adult sabbath-school sometimes...that's an excellent idea :) I would love to implement that in my home church also...it will also give the youth AND the adults a perspective on where each one is spiritually...the youth speak among each other in their class and the adults speak in their class...and many assumptions can be made about where each one is without really knowing what lives in them by what they speak unless they can hear each other...

      Like(3)
  2. God bless you for your good work. I hope our leaders in various churches will find out this deficiency and iron it out. Because at times when you go to church and u don't belong to any group, you feel isolated and this at times make people stop attending church. Am a witness and is very bad.

    Like(3)
  3. I grew up in a small church with predominately mature females and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was nurtured, loved and encouraged to love and serve The Lord from a very early age and I am still serving Him today.

    Children need good examples, prayer, nuture and love. Let's prayer for all children as they are born for a purpose just like us.

    Like(4)
  4. I was asked several years ago to support the starting up of a Youth Church in Southeast Texas and I declined for the very reasons you mentioned in your piece. As with you, I didn't see how isolating the youth completely from the adults encourages their growth. I mentioned to the Elder that I learned how to behave in church, how to communicate with others and how to hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, all by observing others, mostly the adults or the youth being guided by the adults, in the main sanctuary. I didn't see the benefit of youth leading youth with spiritual matters, isolated from the experience and wisdom of the adults.

    The Elder's project did not materialize and I eventually became the Youth and Worship Leader for the main sanctuary at that church and began encouraging and expecting the youth to participate in the church service and even had a Sabbath when I sat down and allowed the youth to lead the entire service and I made sure it wasn't on a scheduled Youth Sabbath. It was one of the most special Sabbaths I've experienced and the entire church, especially the youth who didn't want to participate, felt the same way and wanted to be a part of the next one.

    The youth need their time to express themselves with each other, but giving the youth nothing but the youth, stifles their growth and may hinder, as already mentioned, their personal relationship with God. As always, I'll keep the youth lifted up in prayer as they have way more to deal with than I had to when I was passing thru that age.

    God bless!

    Like(16)
    • But what are your views on AY. Most of the time it is the youth leading the youth. What I found out was many are not serious about their christianity. the youth class is taught by a youth, while the have something to say, the older person not only have something to say, but also wisdom and experience which is beneficial to any society. But sometimes you cannot convince even the adults about this, people are head strong about what they do for years even if it does not work.

      Like(1)
  5. The AYS system of youth ministry is great if the focus is on the mission of the church. Too many times programs are planned with a focus on entertaining instead of ministering, The Everlasting Gospel is a powerful motivator for youths to fall in love with Jesus. Leaders indeed make a difference if that connection with Jesus is wholesome and uplifting. If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me.(John 12:32)Youth ministry must be about nurturing and integrating youths to become active participants as in every area of ministry

    Like(7)
  6. This reminds me of the feeling we youths have when worshipping with our parents. Sometimes we feel as if we are a separate 'special' group which should be treated in a special way. The solution is integrating young people from an early age into church activities and leadership so that there is consistent growth socially and spiritually in a young person's life. Jesus showed that even at 12, one can be a tough nut to crack when it comes to the word of God.

    Like(10)
  7. [Moderator's Note: Please use full names when commenting. Thank you.]

    Sometime ago i read E.G.White's Mind Character and Personality. One of the topics she warned the church about was the practice's of creating separate programmes for children and separating them from their parents during worship times.It seems me that this is church policy, at least in my Union.Every Sabbath leaders make it a point to separate the church into various groups. The reason that E.G.White gives for discouraging this practice is that children are less likely to pay attention during a programme where there parents are not present.

    Like(1)
  8. Great post and insights.
    Indeed, we have a problem in the church that is bigger than all of us. We need to make some changes and we do incorporate the youth and teenagers in the church service. They do scripture reading, organist, children's story, prayers and soon more since I have learned more ideas from William. Now I am having the teenagers help me teach the adult lesson since we have only one SS class in our small church. I give them a topic and have them present in the class.
    Thanks so much!

    Like(2)
  9. There is a tension between giving young people the freedom to do their own thing, and providing the appropriate level of control. All too often I see children being given the opportunity to make decisions about what they should do when they are far too young to make those decisions. We try to put old heads on young shoulders and then cry shame when they make the wrong decisions.

    A church congregation should understand the need for young people to have "headroom" and at the same time provides a mentoring environment that young people appreciate. Not easy to achieve but worth the effort for what it does achieve.

    I mentioned elsewhere the rock-climbing analogy - hold on in two places while exploring for another place. I am young enough to remember my youth and the indulgent mentoring I received from Church folk as I explored ideas of existentialism and comparative religion. I was 13 and read thick books. Someone gave me "The Great Controversy" and I loved it. (I had to read "Messages to Young People" and hated it!) Amazingly, at the tender age of 15, I preached 1/4 of a sermon. Looking back now I know that I grew up in a very nurturing environment - a mixture of mentored freedom and responsibility.)

    I see some churches still offering that same mix today - and I have also seen churches where the youth scene has become a "them and us" situation. We cannot afford to think lazily on this one.

    Like(2)
  10. Thank you for posting that information. This is a real issue in my church. I learnt a lot from the comments and will share with the AYLeader. Please pray for my church so we can rise up to the challenge and make the changes necessary, so that as adults our lives and actions will help our children make the transition. I believe conversion is of God, but nurturing and Christlike adults play a very important roll.

    Like(1)
  11. Have been so blessed by this post! Will by GOD' s grace take on board and prayerfully implement some of the ideas. I am so blessed to be part of a fellowship where there is no separatism between young and old. From sabbath morning services to socials and outdoor activities, the church operates as a seamless integrated unit. It has been 'policy' to have young people actively involved in every ministry and department of the church, (even the ones traditionally associated with elderly or senior women). That way there is a mutual exchange of ideas, energy and talent.
    We do not segregate and operate as independent units in our natural families, neither should our church families.

    Like(1)
  12. I think we're letting the real responsible parties off the hook. Child spirituality and discipleship is first and foremost the duty of the home. Church youth leaders just play a supporting role.

    Youth Church, when you think of it, is barely four hours per week. This simply cannot be to blame for youth hemorrhage.

    While balance is important, many older people are unnecessarily estranged from the young; and it's not necessarily the fault of the young. The young ran to Jesus.
    Was that just one of his special gifts?
    Or could adults just make a better effort to interact with young people of all ages?

    Like(2)
  13. Andrew thank you for bringing up the importance of the home life. While I went to an Adventist School growing up, most of my classmates are out of the church and have been for a long time. The ones in the church all share something in common, we all had family worship in our home everyday. So while Christian Education wants to take all the credit, the credit belongs to the parents who did their jobs at home. Also we are finding today that families make the church fit around their personal schedule, and only go to or attend functions that they have time for after they have taken care of their personal interests. When I was growing up it was the opposite, families arranged their schedule around the church programs and activities and made church a priority. And it is the parents who should be leading their children to have a connection and experience with God, and not a youth pastor or youth leader.

    Like(2)
  14. Just to add to the point, I have noticed a clear correlation between student attitude toward school (and performance in particular) and the involvement of their parents in their educational life.

    Successful students more often than not have parents who hold them accountable for their homework, studying and behaviour in school. Such students are a dream to work with in class.

    In fact, one day I'd like to research it, but I believe it's probably the single biggest contributor to student performance and probably by a lot.

    None of this, of course, is to guilt parents into thinking that if their children stray from God it was their fault. I think even seemingly failed efforts bear fruit.

    Like(0)
  15. Our church in rural southwestern Colorado has a regular attendance of perhaps 40. The congregation is made up of mostly retirement-age folks and a very few families with school-age children. Because of our church's limited resources and limited availability of personnel, we cannot support a separate program for youth (outside of our sabbath school program and our church school that welcomes and enrolls children from non-member families). Because of these circumstances, our children are in the sanctuary after sabbath school. Under the guidance and encouragement of our head deacon, many, including my 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, participate in the gathering of tithe and offerings, greeting, and dismissal of the congregation. My wife and I have raised our children to recognize the sanctity of the sanctuary, as we were, and they behave accordingly. Yes, they are still children so we provide them with activities and distractions as appropriate for their level of attention but they know they are expected to participate in the service when it comes time to stand, kneel, sing, etc.

    This has been the circumstance in our church for many years and I believe it is the reason so many of the children that have grown up in our church are still active members; in the academy churches, college churches, and in other places to which they and their families have moved.

    Like(0)
  16. You know Sherman, I remember an elderly retired school teacher talking to me about teaching several different classes in a one room school building. He told me the younger kids learned more and learned quicker because while learning their own lessons they also could not help but hear what the older kids were being taught also, and of course some of it started sinking in before they even got to that level of class themselves. I can't help but believe that the same is true in the situation you have described and why so many stay active after moving on.

    Like(0)
  17. I actually believe that it's not that the children have a more robust spirituality when they are among adults (even though I believe that children can rise to challenges and should be given more responsibility); but that they have a greater sense of belonging.
    In my humble opinion, this is the positive contribution of including them in the adult services--not that they now know the Bible better and thus are more serious and less likely to drop out of church.

    But in my own personal experience, I learned far more at home (particularly in family worship) than at church (youth or adult).

    Like(0)
  18. William you raised a very important point, one that should not be overlooked. This really hit home for me as a member of the AYS committee at my church. It's important to me that as a ministry we are encouraging the spiritual growth of youth and not just creating a "hangout" as it were for young people. Don't get me wrong - social interaction is important. However that cannot be the primary reason for coming to church. If that's the case, as you rightly suggested, once that structure changes or is no longer our youth will not stay. Integrating them into various aspects of church life is indeed a great way to help youth build their relationship with God.

    Like(0)

What do you think? If you like a comment, just [Like] it or post a thoughtful reply. Please provide a working email address and your real first AND last name to have your comment published.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.