“Hey church, adolescents are NOT leaving you. You are perpetually leaving them. Stop using statistical bullshit to project blame. Repent.
Unless you’re willing to let adolescents mess with your own life, you have no business messing with their lives...”
Here are some initial thoughts:
I would argue and agree that adolescents are leaving the church because we are leaving them. Let’s take a look at the typical Sunday school situation as an example: we split people into age groups so that we can teach “at their level.” Within those groups, bonds and relationship do form, even if on a shallow level. Then, a high school student graduates and they’re expected to just transition to an adult class because it’s what we’ve always expected. We think that an 18-year old kid will walk into a room with a group of adults (that are already in relationship with one another), and that are likely in the midst of a study (that they’ve been working through for weeks, or even months) and just fit in?
Here’s another great example: a few weeks ago, I was given the honor to speak to our church about the biblical mandate of intergenerational ministry. Basically, the church leadership is to teach the older men and women the faith, the older men/women teach the younger, the younger teach their kids, and the kids live it out. Wash/rinse/repeat. All of these things happen within the context of relationship. But a funny thing happened on the way to the pulpit that morning. Our kids, those in grades 5 and below, were dismissed before my message. And then, at our luncheon following the service, our “senior saints” were given a table to themselves, and people got in the food line according to their age!
Here’s the point to all of this, and it will sound very cliche. It’s time we re-thought youth ministry. Mark DeVries, Jim Burns and a great many other people have been talking about it for years. A few suggestions for practicalities:
To start off…Sunday school classes offered as electives that people from ages high school and up could choose from. Kids and adults mixed together. This would require adult leaders speaking inter-generationally. It would require kids learning from adults and adults learning from kids.
No more children’s church. This would require pastors skilled at reaching all generations and maturity levels. It will require that spend a lot more time explaining things. Why do we pray? Why do we sing? Why do we take Communion?
Intentionally invite students into adult LIFE Groups. A possible objection to this would be, “They are invited!” Ok, fine…what are you talking about? Is it something of interest? To them?
None of this means that we tailor everything that we do towards kids. We should no more do that than have a target audience of Laotian refugees, aged 25-27 with 2 kids that drive an Audi. What this means is that we are intentional in our relationship-building.
Imagine what it might look like for a LIFE Group or Sunday school class comprised of all ages. When those kids graduate and if they stay local, they’re already plugged into the church, but beyond that, they’re already plugged into a group that they know and that knows them. Man, that sounds downright biblical.