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Youth group reflects its church

Youth group reflects churchI’m starting to notice a trend between youth ministries and their churches. I saw it first in my own youth group when evaluating our areas of strengths and weaknesses. Where we are strong are also the areas of strength for our church and likewise for areas of weakness. It’s almost as if the students become carbon copies of their parents. The spiritual attitudes they see exemplified around them in the church and at home become the ones they bring to youth group and their own spiritual lives. For example, if there’s no strong sense of urgency among adults in the church to reach lost people, it’s hard to spark that passion in the youth group.

So I’m wondering if it’s accurate to say that the state of the youth group sometimes reflects the state of the church. People may complain about what’s wrong with their youth ministry, but a short discussion about what’s happening in the church as a whole usually reveals that the same thing is happening among the adults. Common issues like disconnected students and spiritual apathy may be an issue among the youth, but maybe these themes also run true among the whole church body and are just covered up by more experienced actors. Whether we realize it or not, kids watch what our hearts model and often reflect it in their own attitudes toward God and spirituality. The difference is that students are less apt to “fake it” at church. If teenagers are bored senseless, their actions show it. If adults are bored senseless of church, they still act “polite” and pretend to be connected to the Truth.

When members of the youth group aren’t connecting real life with spiritual matters then maybe the first step is to build a healthy church where parents and adults serve as a model for teenagers to follow. If students see this kind of connection taking place at home, at church and in the lives on their youth leaders then maybe it has a higher chance to take place in their lives. Instead of witnessing the superficial spiritual fluff all around them that leaves little impact on daily living, they should witness first-hand in our lives that scripture is not just theoretical trivia but, as Hebrews 4:12 says, is “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”

We’ve all heard the statistic of high school graduates leaving the church in masses. I can’t help but wonder if the first step in finding the solution is not to figure out what’s wrong with youth ministry, but figure out what’s wrong with the church. Adults and parents need to live a true example of following Christ and applying scripture to daily concerns. If students don’t see this, then why would they want to adopt our impractical “spirituality?” I think the solution to this mass exodus starts with a spiritual revival among church parents and adults to live spiritually contagious lives.


Posted on September 25, 2006

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  • Couldn’t agree with you more Tim! I’ve witnessed exactly what you’re saying. The healthier the whole church, the more healthy the youth ministry.

    Sometimes I feel like the sacrifices and energy we make aren’t strong enough to counterbalance some of the junk that is happening within our teens’ families. I also feel occasionaly that it’s a lost cause to get any of the older folks in church to see beyond their generation. They really are set in their ways and extremely opinionated. It is rare to see an older person express understanding or compromise. Even the pastor has trouble with this, although he does try on some levels.

    I would echo you resoundingly that it is not the Youth Ministries that are failing to make a difference. It is the main body of adults that is failing to incorporate and recognize the importance of young people. They have nothing to look forward to or get excited about. They don’t want to become the boring, judgmental, and authoritative adults they see each Sunday.

    Perhaps youth ministries do have some culpability in this, however. Maybe they are too relevant and exciting. Students get used to a certain way and they don’t want the Old School style of the “sanctuary.” They might try it for a few weeks, but they get bored fast and start skipping. Just a thought.

  • You make a great point.
    I remember a quote I once heard that went something along the lines of “why is it that the older generations talk about whats wrong with the younger generations as if they had nothing to do with shaping who they are.”

    Jimmy Bob, I agree with you that there can be an element of the young people not wanting to be like the older church they see, however I do think that can be a generalisation as well. Sometimes they don’t see what some of the older people are doing because young people are so self indulged. Part of the role of th youth pastor is to highlight the good in the ‘adult’ church. i.e. the 90 year old guy in my church who visits 30+ people a week in nursing homes and helps out lots of local causes.

  • Liam, yeah, after reviewing my comment, I did seem to be generalizing…a lot. I agree with you too that youth leaders have the task of bridging the gap between young and old. I want to let you know that I have 9 volunteer youth leaders in addition to my wife and I. Out of those 9, 2 of them are grandparents and 3 of them are actual parents of teens. The others are in their 20s. So, I was really generalizing when I spoke about the older generation. It really is a case by case thing. Young people can be quite self indulged. But, I feel that it really should be the responsibility of the mature to make sure the younger one’s get it and desire it. Is there really an alternative?

  • I see this a lot too. It reminds of of a message I heard from Blaine Bartel from 180 where he challenged the idea of youth pastors trying to cast there vision to their sr. pastor. He says that is never good because it goes against his leading. Better would be to become a reflection of the vision the sr. pastor is casting.

    This makes it very important to get with a church that is in line with your own heart.

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  • I have noticed this in the churches that I have been apart of. If the adults are not active in the life of the church, the students won't be either. That kind of excitement and buzz for the gospel almost always needs to come from the adults, the parents and the elders. It can start in the youth ministry but that seems to be a rare exception. I pray that our ministry can start the fire in our church, but I know that if the whole church caught the vision of the Gospel in our community it would really start a blaze.

  • withheld

    We definitely have that problem! My husband & I are running both the student ministry and the young adult ministry. We have laid out some real challenges to the two groups and have also been breaking religious strongholds and lies. Awesome transformations are happening, but we keep seeing our guys get roped right back into the same patterns that the church is in. It sure is frustrating, especially since we can actually see these changes in the majority of both groups.

    Unfortunately, in our case, our limitations are a direct reflection of the spiritual state of the “bug guy” himself. Just this weekend we had a leadership meeting about how bad he thinks things are going at our church. All blame was placed on our congregation, you know, they are just lazy. Since our church has no set up structure of job accountability for the pastor, the CEO and final authority, we are really struggling to get through some basic problems that most churches can remedy quickly. (Example: We have serious communication problems. In an upbeat open discussion of staff & lay leaders, we presented a solution/system for it. Everyone was jazzed about the solution and ready to commit to the work ahead. Then, all of the sudden, we were harshly reminded that pastor has a degree in advertising and communication. Huh??? *dazed* So, now we have to marinate in this communication problem until… well, I guess until the second coming.)

    I contend that, at least in this case, the state of the youth/young adults reflects the church which reflects the staff and the pastor. It is so discouraging to see an authentic breakthrough in our young people, only to have it die beneath the crust of complacency and pride that we have here. And it’s not just happening in the young people, it’s also happening in our adult small groups. There’s a breakthrough, then it dies. We, too, are praying for the fires that are igniting to help kindle the flame in the church, but we need it on upward to the leaders who are squelching it. It’s just so disappointing. Every time I think about this, even in writing these words, I have a sickening lump in my throat from disbelief and heartache for our flock.

  • Tim

    Hey “Withheld,” sorry to hear about your frustrations, but at least maybe it’s encouraging to know that you’re not alone with this. There’s no such thing as a perfect ministry, but I would love to think that imperfect ministries are always taking steps to correct areas of weakness. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Hang in there, though, for the sake of the teenagers if for no one else. God bless you guys!

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  • john

    High School Grads leave the Church in my opinion partly because youth Leaders never confront the fact that it happens year after year and nothing seems to be done differently to change it.

    What I have done in the past as a YM was to try and explain to the High School Youth Group that they will leave their current circle of faithful friends and move on to a whole new set of friends who do not share the same faith. If a person does not have a strong foundation in faith, they will more easily swayed away, or brought into something new. Either another Church , or a cult, or a keg party, or a group of loosers. Best to find a Christian Community at School, a Newman Center or Chapel right away and hang with them,

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