Helping Teens Keep the Faith

Jakarta Church photo from Wikipedia

Jakarta Church photo from Wikipedia

Today’s blog post is by a York student, David Ekere. David has been involved in my ministry since the 2013-14 academic year. By his own admission, he wrote a seven page paper on “Why Teens Leave the Church” one night when he was “bored from studying”! We might be seeing a future youth pastor in the making! And he sent it to me for my feedback. Part of my ministry’s mission is to develop the leadership potential in students. Hence, I choose to empower David’s voice and passion by posting a revised version of his paper on my blog. I have to edit the paper down to a more blog-friendly length, and also changed his paper’s tone. So, here is the David-approved edited version with my brief responsive remarks after the paper.

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Helping Teens Keep the Faith

By David Ekere

Hi, my name is David Ekere and I am currently a 19 year old Christian student and second year Political Science major at York University. In this article, I want to give some ideas to help teens (ages 16-19) keep the faith and not leave the church.

According to the Barna Group, 70% or 3/4s of teens that attend church will leave the church. This is an alarming statistic. There are many reasons for this but I think there are at least three things that churches can do to help prevent teens from leaving the church:

  • Teach teens to intellectually and logically defend their faith;
  • Encourage the teens to get involve in church more;
  • Encourage teens to have a genuine personal relationship with God and parents are instrumental in this.

Teach Apologetics

We need to teach teens to intellectually and logically defend their faith. Teens often feel like their doubts and concerns about Christianity are either being shunned or not addressed at all.  Thus, when going on to post-secondary institutions and faced with situations where they need to defend their faith, they don’t know how to respond to tough questions.

Teens like to talk about their faith and they want to tell other people about Jesus and the gospel’s good news.  However, they often discover that what they were taught either in Sunday school, youth programs in church, and by parents are not enough to defend their stance on why they are Christian.

When Christians have tough conversations with atheists at university, I find many Christian students end up silenced. They are silenced by questions they have never faced before, and they don’t know how to respond. The Christian, therefore, looks like a fool for believing in such a “fairytale” and the Christian student is left to wonder whether their whole Christian life was a lie.  This is where doubt creeps in and before you know it, that teen who was playing the drums in the youth choir has become an atheist, agnostic, or converts to another religion simply because the other point of view makes more sense than Christianity.

Church leaders should NOT be telling our teens to “just believe, don’t doubt God and have faith”. Teens really want and need to know “WHY”. We need to teach our teens that there is a logical and a reasonable explanation to believe in God. The problem is that most times when teens are trying to ask a question, they are seen as people who are losing their faith and are constantly being told to “just believe, don’t doubt God and have faith”. This does not answer their question but rather creates more doubts.

For example, during the first seven to eight months after my dad died my mom and I were struggling on why God allowed my dad to die. Some church friend suggested that we should “stop questioning God”. For me, this method did not work as it created more questions of doubt and anger. It got to the point I wanted to become an atheist because when my dad was sick I did everything I knew and I believed God can heal my dad more than anyone but my dad still died. To make matters worse, I was hearing testimonies of people with worse cases healing instantly. Later, I started going to another church that have a youth program which helped me to stay in the faith.

We need to give our youth logical answers for every facet of life if possible in such topics as dating, sex, gay marriage, drugs, peer pressure, and other topics so that our teens are knowledgeable to handle the questions that come from other religious students, skeptics, agnostics and atheists.

Youth Involvement in Church

The church needs to encourage the teens to get them involved with different church ministries. The teens also tend to (rightly or wrongly) see the older people as not caring enough about them to make an impact on their lives.  Teens want to serve God in the church but they need encouragement to do so. Most teens feel shy or they feel like they are incapable of serving in the church. That is why as leaders we need to encourage the teens to do something in church. Even though having youth services for the teens are nice, studies have shown that teens are not really engaged in church and this can be one of the causes for their boredom in church.  We need teens to be active in church.

One way to achieve this is for leaders of different service groups to find teens who are interested in participating in that ministry or group. We need to instill in the teens the importance of serving others and how to serve the community. This can be done by taking teens on mission trips to other countries to serve, going to homeless shelters and donating their time to help out and learn the importance of giving back to the community or taking the teens on a trip to give out tracts and evangelize to the community at large. These are ways to challenge the youth in figuring out ways to serve the community while also making a positive impact on people’s lives and spreading the good news of the gospel at the same time.

Research shows a need for youth to blend more with the adults in church so they can both understand each other.  The older generation should be instilling the idea that Christianity is NOT a do/don’t religion and that the Bible is NOT a book with a bunch of do/don’t rules. With a do/don’t type of mentality, the teens find church to be useless because there are life coaches, teachers and other methods that preach the same thing. Rather, the older generation needs to reframe the Gospel as God’s way of transforming us from the inside out. This can be done by telling them their own life stories about how they were changed after they met Christ. This way the teens can use the stories as an example and a guide to use when it comes to their faith.

Finally, teens feel that church is too often overprotective and judgmental when it comes to topics such as sexuality, science vs. creation, peer pressure and life crisis management (handling life problems). For example, the Barna Group, according to the article “Why are young people leaving church?” by Chron.com, has found that 23% of 18 to 29-year-olds said, “Christians demonize everything outside of the church,” and 22% feel the “church ignores the problems of the real world”.  In addition, in the area of sexuality, studies reveal that 17% of young Christians said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” Churches need to realize that teens want an open discussion on this topic with the older generation. However, they want the information provided to be current and relevant to this day and age without being judged for their views regarding these issues.

As a teen myself I would like the church to be more open and friendly to the teens and encourage them to join different service groups. In addition I believe the church needs to be more open to teens’ ideas on different topics and be willing to listen to their reasons on what they believe on different topics of interest and aspects on their lives.

Personal Relationship with God

We have to ask the question whether most teens in the church really have a personal relationship with God. Many of the teens that were interviewed, according to the Christian post, said that their faith was not integrated into their lives. It was seen as a Sunday thing with little impact into their everyday lives. Parents need to instill the importance of the Christian faith to their children and show the importance of going to church.

Another interesting part of this is that the teens thought they were given a “hand-me down” religion. This relates to my first point that the teens feel that the church is forcing them to accept their parents’ faith instead of letting them ask tough questions about their faith. This is why many teens leave the church. They don’t want to have a hand-me-down religion. But rather they want their parents to challenge them to find out and search the scriptures for themselves.

My parents, for example, always stress the fact that “Christianity SHOULD NOT AND MUST NOT BE the religion of my parents but rather I should have a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with God”! This should not be the youth pastor or the church’s issue alone (even though they are a part of it) but it is also ON THE PARENTS to instill Christian values right from birth. That is why Solomon says in Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. That means that parents have the responsibility to train up their children at the end of the day.

Conclusion

In conclusion the church needs to realize that teens want to be loved and accepted, and encouraged to serve. They want to be challenged intellectually so they can give sound answers and feel confident when talking to other people about their faith. And parents need to help teens develop a personal relationship with God. I hope I was able to shed some light on this issue. Thank you.

Bibliography

“Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?” The Exchange. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html?paging=off

“Q&A: Why Teens Leave the Faith & What We Can Do About It.” Pastors.com. N.p., 02 Apr. 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.  http://pastors.com/qa-why-teens-leave-the-faith-what-we-can-do-about-it/

Rudy Rasmus. “Why Are Young People Leaving Church?” The Pastor Rudy Experience. Chron, 11 Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.  http://blog.chron.com/pastorrudy/2011/10/why-are-young-people-leaving-church/

“Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church.” Marc5Solas. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.  http://marc5solas.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/#prettyPhoto

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Chong’s Remarks:

I am generally in agreement with the main points of David’s paper. I do think that Christian youth should be taught the WHY and not just the WHAT they believe. There are proper and healthy ways of incorporating apologetics into faith formation, as long as one does not end up arrogant and rationalistic in one’s faith. And I am a big proponent of letting youth ask their big tough questions, and seriously exploring those questions with them.

Involvement of youth in broad levels of the church’s life and ministry is also definitely the right thing. Youth should not be relegated to only the youth programs but be involved into all aspects of church life. We need to give them leadership roles and nurture their gifts.

Finally, David’s call for Christian parents to take ownership of their children’s faith formation is an important point. If parents think they can simply outsource their children’s faith formation to the church and/or Christian schools, then that is a recipe for disaster.

I think David is on the right track here, and churches can definitely do worse than heed David’s points.

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About Shiao Chong

Editor in Chief of The Banner, official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Formerly CRC Campus Minister serving at York University in Toronto, Canada. (All postings here are my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of the CRC or of The Banner.)
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Campus Ministry, Youth Issues and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Helping Teens Keep the Faith

  1. Joe Bigliogo says:

    I responded to your blog, Shiao, because I saw that it originated from Toronto. I’m also a Torontonian and figured we both could relate to the cultural atmosphere in T.O. surrounding religion. It seems here in Canada religion is a topic that rarely gets discussed unlike the US where zealotry is not uncommon. In fact in Canada it’s considered bad form to broadcast a religious opinion in social situations. Try starting a religious discussion at a party and watch the room clear. Part of this is driven by the diversity of faiths in a multicultural city like Toronto and the potential conflicts such discussions. Millennials in particular are sensitive cultural and religious diversity. Declaring “my religion is right and everyone else’s is wrong” is a notion most young people cannot stomach.
    Regarding my own experience (I was raised both catholic and protestant) yes two churches over different times. I would not call any it negative except for the usual juvenile boredom. My religious community for the most part was open to questions and challenges. My reasons for falling out of faith were more philosophical; specifically a new found skepticism of claims for the supernatural which started in my early teens. In response books by Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell were given to me by elders in my church. Reading them didn’t help their cause and if anything only sped up my departure, I’m afraid I found atheist writers to be a lot more convincing than these guys. That said I have noticed my transition very much mirrors a great many young people raised in Canada. From what I can tell apologetics is much more prevalent than it was in the 80s and 90s being wide spread in books and on the internet; but it doesn’t seem to have to have done much to curb the growth of atheism. This is just my opinion but I don’t think apologetics actually accomplishes much except to serve as bias confirmation for already believers, pretty much like preaching to the choir. Regardless of apologetics self proclaimed atheists like me are growing in record numbers although we’re still a relative minority I think. Many youth have rejected Christian doctrine but probably qualify as agnostic deists. And a lot are just indifferent to religion and defy classification.
    I think co-existence of all faiths including no faith is possible. Respect is the key and I think Toronto exemplifies this better than just about any city in the world.

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      Hi Joe,
      Thanks for replying again! This: “I think co-existence of all faiths including no faith is possible. Respect is the key and I think Toronto exemplifies this better than just about any city in the world.” Yes, I agree entirely! But I will add to respect we should also have humility. I find that there is a great deal of arrogance these days among religious folks, and some of the militant atheists, e.g. Dawkins and Hitchens. And that kind of inflated certainties become barriers to learning from each other, and barriers to proper respect, versus simply begrudging tolerance.

      I do not deny that there are probably many folks like yourself who left the faith because of philosophy and critical thinking. But, as I said, I have encountered many who, when I probe further, discover some “experience” that turned them to the path of leaving the faith. I am sure we are both “right” in this regard, it’s not an either-or. People leave the faith for all kinds of various reasons – some more experiential, others more rational.

      I also agree that a lot of popular Christian apologetics speak more to reinforcing the choir, so to speak, than convincing any doubters. I also find that a lot of apologists tend to over-reach with their arguments rather than stick to what the facts/truths suggest. They also betray a great deal of idealism and rationalism that are part of the modernist worldview that I see as deficient. I have written blogs about what’s wrong, from my Christian viewpoint, with modernism as a philosophical system.

      The one thing I would like to caution with what you wrote is that there is an implied sentiment that rationality will necessarily lead people to leave religion. If you did not mean to imply that, then, my apologies. It just came across that way.

      My caution is that there are plenty of very intellectual and intelligent thinkers who are also devout Christians (and other religions too). And even atheists have been known to convert – at least to a generic theism rather than a specific religion – from simply rational logic. A famous example is Anthony Flew, who was the most famous atheist philosopher prior to any of the new atheists taking the stage. Flew wrote the philosophical textbook for atheists, so to speak, in the 20th century. He had debated theists and was THE atheist spokesperson in his time.

      But in recent years, he changed his position and this is in his book: There Is a God. http://www.amazon.com/There-God-Notorious-Atheist-Changed/dp/0061335304/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438993786&sr=1-1&keywords=there+is+a+god+by+antony+flew
      In the book, he claims that he became a theist simply by following his life-long mantra of following where the evidence leads. He believes, rightly or wrongly, that the newest scientific evidences of a finely-tuned universe has partially led him to rethink his position.

      Anyways, I am simply citing him to say that there are very intelligent and rational folks who did not find faith to be a stumbling block.

      If I may, I just thought of another book: An Atheist Defends Religion by Bruce Sheiman – http://www.amazon.com/An-Atheist-Defends-Religion-Humanity/dp/1592578543
      Pretty good read. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it already.

      Thanks again for this dialogue and for reading my blog! I hope some of my other posts are interesting for you. By the way, I am in Mississauga rather than Toronto proper. But, yup, definitely can appreciate the diversity of cultures/religions/non-faiths!

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  2. Joe Bigliogo says:

    As a former Christian turned atheist this is my opinion (I do not necessarily speak for other atheists). Christianity has competition; atheists and their counter-apolgetics… and because young people are generally more open / active minded and not so emotionally fixed to one set of beliefs, they more often find atheists more convincing and are thus more open to changing their beliefs after some period of introspection. The information age and the internet have played a huge role in this trend. We no longer live in monotheistic cocoons like our grandparents but on a playing field of competing ideas, some of them in stark opposition to Christianity. Current data suggests today’s shift towards skepticism and doubt has resulted in a lot more young people rejecting their faith than are coming to faith by any and all efforts at evangelization.
    “The internet is where religion comes to die” is a popular meme which I’m afraid has more than a ring of truth to it. Christianity world wide is in considerable decline (except for third world nations) and I believe we are only seeing the beginning.

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      Hi Joe,
      Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and to comment.
      Speaking as a non-Christian who converted to Christianity, I agree with you that the competition of ideas/beliefs is definitely more intense and ubiquitous these days than before, and the internet is partly responsible for that.
      But in relation to David’s article here, I do think that part of the reason for the exodus of youth from the church is the failure of the church to properly engage this competition of ideas, hence, David’s point about apologetics needing to be addressed by the churches with their youth. This is the other side of the coin, so to speak, to your “internet is where religion goes to die” meme.
      If religions ignore the rational arguments out in the world, and does not even attempt to provide some rational answers to their youth who are exposed to these questions, then it is no surprise why people will be persuaded by the critics.
      One other big factor that is not addressed by David’s post is the religious hypocrisy and judgmental-ism in so many churches. I suspect that there might be more people being driven away by the church’s own moral failures than lured away by persuasive arguments.
      Not speaking about you at all but I have met quite a number of former Christians turned atheists who, when I dig further into their reasons for leaving, essentially left Christianity due to bad experiences primarily, and only secondarily rely on rational arguments. Again, I am not suggesting that is your case. I don’t know you so I don’t presume to say anything about you. I am simply saying something from past observation I have with other atheists who are ex-Christians.
      So, thanks again for the comment and appreciate you taking time to read this blog!

      Like

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