If you have teenagers in your church, do they want to be there?

Or are they obliged by parents to be there and haven’t yet had the guts to say no?! In the UK the latter is often the case and it is a problem that all churches need to look at. It seems to me that many of our teenagers are already lost to the church by the time they reach their teens because of dull and boring Sunday school lessons which have no practical relevance to their own lives. Therefore the building blocks taught in the Sunday school classes are vital to keeping your youngsters as they get older. In small churches with no youth group, we found that to keep our own eldest daughter interested in Sundays, we placed her in charge of a younger class which she thoroughly enjoyed. This gave her responsibility and a sense of value within the church. Over the years we have always tried to install in teenagers that they are an important part of the church family and as such, ought to be looking for a way to serve. That might be in children’s ministry, the worship group or even on chair duty or the tea and coffee rota. All roles within the church are necessary and worthy and should be appreciated by all the church family.

I have heard far too many people say ‘look after the children because they are the church of tomorrow’. This is a LIE—They are part of the church of TODAY

far too many people say ‘look after the children because they are the church of tomorrow’. This is a LIE—They are part of the church of TODAY

Some years ago we were asked by a church if we could tell them why they lost their children as soon as they hit their teens and they couldn’t understand why they would not want to stay within the church. It turned out that the Sunday school lesson was given in a house down the road from the church, that the music was on tapes and not ‘live’, and the lessons consisted mostly of craft, hung loosely on a story from the Bible. It seemed obvious to me, but they couldn’t understand why I was asking about the younger children when they were asking about the teenagers!! We tried to be as tactful as we could and encouraged them to work on the Sunday school lessons and making the whole thing more integrated with the main church body as well as more interesting and practical to their lives outside of church.

‘Razzle Dazzle’

Many churches fall into the trap of believing that to keep teenagers and young people in church all we have to do is get “rock band worship teams” and fashionable young preachers and use lots of multimedia – in essence we need to try to compete with the production quality and values they see regularly on their television sets or smart phones.

The problem is this – with the possible exception of one or two huge mega churches, we do not have the resources to compete in that arena.

In a previous church we were in an affluent area where the parents worked all the hours they could to earn money to throw at the kids to make up for the fact that they were working so many hours away from the kids!! It was easy for us to get alongside these kids because although we didn’t have any money to throw at them we did have time to give. Young people know if you are genuine and if you are genuinely interested in them and their daily lives. Showing them the love of Jesus is easy if they will give you the time in return. There was a history of keeping things from the youth group (“it’s none of their business”; “they don’t need to know”; “we can’t be involved in gossiping to teenagers” almost any excuse is used). But what actually happened was that the youngsters felt unloved and unwanted. They sensed that the previous youth workers had only given them the time of day because they were paid to. I was on staff but Wendy was the BOGOF (‘buy one – get one free) and therefore chose which areas of the church that she wanted to get involved with. It took a bit of careful and sensitive digging to find out what had happened to the previous half dozen youth workers who each seemed to last a year or two, but when she did, she explained to the young people about what had happened so that they no longer felt that it was their fault. She removed an unnecessary and untrue burden of guilt on the young people and built on rebuilding their confidence and gaining their trust.

When I was a young person (more years ago than I care to remember!) the local church which was a rural Methodist church had a massive youth work. The youth leader was an elderly spinster in her 60’s, she didn’t play sports with us, she didn’t enjoy the music we liked, she didn’t watch the TV programmes we watched and enjoyed. How is it she was so successful?

We knew she loved us, she always had time to talk to us. I remember coming home from school and if one walked around to the back door of her house, the door was open and she was sat in the parlour with the teapot hot and cakes and biscuits ready. A crowd of us would all pile in, sit on the sofa, each other’s laps and the floor while she sat in her orthopaedic chair and supervised the laughter the stories, the fun. Interjecting sometimes when we got a bit rowdy, or with her own stories of what it was like as a child in the inter-war period. I’ll never forget the bone china, the cake stand and the crocheted doilies. But most importantly of all I remember the fun and the laughter and knowing I mattered to her.

The best way to keep young people in our churches is to provide something the world does not and cannot provide:

  1. Time
  2. Authentic Relationship
  3. Love – real, sacrificial love
  4. and, of course, the offer of a relationship with Jesus.
%d bloggers like this: