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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.