What comes to mind when we talk about “youth group?” Perhaps it’s something like this. “The youth ministry is important.” “Youth are so different today.” “We need to keep them occupied.” “They can do their own thing so long as they don’t get in the way.” Why do we think this way about the youth? I wonder if our attitudes about youth ministry are actually teaching the youth to be isolated from the overall ministry of the church. What we find is many of them don’t come back as adults.
The Future Church
What’s happening to the next generation of Christians? The Barna Group published this report on twentysomethings a few years ago. (www.barna.org) “…the most potent data regarding disengagement is that a majority of twentysomethings – 61% of today’s young adults – had been churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying). Only one-fifth of twentysomethings (20%) have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences. Another one-fifth of teens (19%) were never significantly reached by a Christian community of faith during their teens and have remained disconnected from the Christian faith.”
A Part of the Problem?
I don’t think twentysomethings are suddenly disengaging in their twenties. I think many of them were never truly engaged in the life of the church at all. For many years we have observed the challenges facing our youth and we rightfully saw the need for youth to get together. Unfortunately, we have also isolated our youth into their own “group” without any real expectations for them to be active participants in the life of the church. I’m confident if you asked those 20% of twentysomethings who remained involved in the church, they would talk about how involved they were in the life of the whole church, not just youth group.
A Lost Rite of Passage
When does a “child” become an “adult” in our church? Historically, confirmation functioned as that rite of passage. Today, children don’t pass into adulthood at confirmation. They pass into youth group, where the expectations for involvement are the same as before confirmation. I think it’s time to reclaim confirmation as a major rite of passage in a child’s life. After years of teaching them the faith, these children speak for themselves on their Confirmation Day the words of faith spoken by their parents at their baptism. This should be the beginning of adulthood in the church. If this 8th grader is willing to publically claim their faith as their own, what makes them any different than any other confirmed member of the church? The only difference is that you already know what it means to be the church, and they need someone to guide them.
Future Church Now
This is so important. After confirmation, we have four years with the future church before they are out in the world. Let’s not give our newly confirmed members a fantastic youth experience that is disconnected with the rest of the church. Let’s give them a fantastic experience that IS the church. Let’s connect them with worship teams and service projects in meaningful ways and show them how the church functions. Let’s develop their leadership skills and give them increasing responsibility. Let’s help the future church discover their part in the body of Christ now! In other words, Bethel’s ministry IS youth ministry. It’s the Future Church Now.