Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reaching the Next Generation

In last Sunday's sermon I mentioned the most recent research report from the Barna Group titled, "Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years" (read the report). The study notes that although 81% of today’s twentysomethings were involved in churches as teenagers, only 20% of them are still spiritually active at age 29. Of course, what the report is unable to tell us is how many of these were ever actually converted.

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

2 comments:

Marcus Deel said...

These suggestions are some great measures to address the age segregation that is so common in churches. From my own experience in youth ministry and at college, I have noticed that very few young persons know what it means to be part of a local body of beleivers that includes persons from various ages and walks of life. Usually the typical young person graduates from an age-segregated church to an age-segregated para-church ministry in college. Upon graduating from college, many of the people I knew in campus ministries are not involved in a local church and do not see involvement in such a body as necessary. And why should they when their entire "church" experience has been one of hanging out with people who are very much like them in every way. Hopefully, JPBC's strategies for dealing with a deficient ecclesiology will be warmly embraced.

Heather Burdette said...

Even as a college student, I can understand why age-specific groups leave something to be desired as a Christian. While being involved in an age-specific Sunday School class is great, and I love my Christian fellowship on grounds, the thing I am so glad to have found at JPBC is a community of Christians of all ages, especially older Christians that I can get to know and turn to in my walk with the Lord.

So thanks to everyone at JPBC to be so welcoming of all of us that sit in that "college student pew" every Sunday!!!