My first reponse: Good. The typical youth group has degenerated into lame touchy-feely, content-free, condescending, feel-good “activities.” It is an encouraging sign when teenagers stop going to those. Of course, the issue is bigger and more serious. Teenagers are dropping out of church. It may be that churches are contributing to that, via obviously shallow youth ministries. But what should churches be doing?
Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.
“Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” says Barna president David Kinnaman.
“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ ” . . .
Chris Palmer, youth pastor at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester, Va., says its youth group enrollment slid from 125 teens in 2008 to 35 last winter.
He pulled participation back up to 70 this year by letting teens know “real church, centered on Jesus Christ, is hard work,” Palmer says. “This involves the Marine Corps of Christianity. Once we communicate that, we see kids say, ‘Hey, I want to be involved in something that’s a little radical and exciting.’ ”
Rainer agrees. He says teens today want Scripture, they “don’t want superficiality. We need to tell them that if you are part of church life, you are part of something bigger. The church needs you, too.”
Here is a successful youth ministry that does just that, giving unwatered down Scripture, depth, and the whole Church:Higher Things.
Do you have other ideas for keeping young people in church? Does anyone else have any success stories?