What would you think if I told you that the Church is facing a major crisis? Maybe the better question is, what if I told you an entire generation was leaving the church in a mass exodus, unlike anything we have ever seen before? Research study after research study is now showing us that high school graduates are leaving the church at alarming rates. On average 40 to 50 percent of high school seniors will leave the church after graduation. Let’s put that in perspective, of the 30 – 40 children and youth our congregation has regular contact with, 15-20 of them will leave the church after graduation unless something changes. Imagine a photograph of all those faces, each one of them a part of our church family and God’s kingdom, now imagine someone taking a red pen and crossing out half of those faces one by one. That’s the challenge we face today, and unless something changes we may miss out on helping our children and students grow into disciples of Christ.
The good news is there is something you can do to help stop the trend occurring in the American Church today. Researchers have also shown that when the congregation of a church engages its children and students in loving relationships, students are significantly more likely to remain a part of the church after graduation. What this means for us is Pastor Ken and I cannot possibly reach a younger generation on our own. “It takes a village” has never been a truer statement than when we talk about life in the church. Helping our students grow in their faith will take everyone. No exceptions. Each one of us must play a role in engaging the young people of our church; from being a friendly face in the crowd who knows their names to teaching Sunday School. You and I have a responsibility to our students, and we must provide them with a welcoming environment in which to grow and serve.
In the book, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, researchers from the Fuller Youth Institute outlined Six Core Commitments to Grow:
Unlock Keychain Leadership- Instead of centralizing authority, empower others—especially young people. (We must allow our young people to serve in the church from an early age. One of my greatest opportunities for growth was being on a search committee with older congregants while I was still in high school.)
Empathize with Today’s Young People- Instead of judging or criticizing, step into the shoes of this generation.
Take Jesus’ Message Seriously- Instead of asserting formulaic Gospel claim, welcome young people into a Jesus-centered way of life.
Fuel a Warm Community- Instead of focusing on cool worship or programs, aim for warm peer and intergenerational relationships. (Don’t limit friendships/relationships to age groups. Some of my best friends were also my Sunday School teachers.)
Prioritize Families and Young People Everywhere- Instead of giving lip-service to how much young people matter, look for creative ways to tangibly support, resource, and involve them in all facets of your congregation.
Be the Best Neighbors- Instead of condemning the world outside your walls, enable young people to neighbor well locally and globally.
The Church may be in trouble, and we may not immediately have all the answers but if we can welcome young people with open arms and engage in these six Core Commitments will we see growth in all our students and within our congregation as a whole. Please join me in engaging
With Love in Christ,