Although the report does not connect the dots, it is, in fact, an indictment of the way that most modern churches have attempted to minister to teens, namely by putting them exclusively into age segregated groups that focus on entertainment rather than discipleship. The problem with this approach is that when children become older they find the world’s entertainment more appealing than the pizza blast down at the church fellowship hall.
I think these statistics also speak to the gap between youth and their families. Parents have the primary responsibility of discipling their children. They cannot farm off that task to anyone else, even the church. Children will most likely follow their parents’ example. If parents see the Christian life as a draining burden and obligation, rather than as a joy and privilege, then so will their children.
The conventional wisdom is that if it is not broken, then don’t try to fix it. These statistics, however, tell us that youth ministry in our churches is largely broken. How do we fix it? Here are some things we have done at JPBC and will continue to do:
1. Try to integrate young people into the life of the church as a whole rather than constantly segregating them into their own same-age groups. This quarter in Sunday School, for example, we have asked our 9-12th grade youth to join their parents in one of the adult tracks. This does not mean that it is always wrong to have young people of the same age get together for fellowship. That is why we have continued our Sunday evening youth gathering, and we will likely offer special Sunday School tracks especially for teens in upcoming quarters.
2. Equip fathers and mothers to offer spiritual guidance and oversight in the home. A Christian Dad and Mom who are not self-righteous but who are humbly striving to live a faithful Christian life are the best "youth ministers" a child will ever have. If we disciple the parents, we are discipling the children.
3. Get the focus of our ministry to young people away from entertainment and on to gospel ministry (evangelism, discipleship, spiritual disciplines, Bible study, and worship). This does not mean that we eliminate all "fun" events, but we do not make them the central focus of our ministry.
May God give us a heart for reaching this generation of twentysomethings and teenagers with the gospel!
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle