Do youth groups drive teens away from church?
An interesting article from Charisma asks whether youth groups are responsible for the rise of the “nones” amongst the teen population. Here’s what they say:
A new study might reveal why a majority of Christian teens abandon their faith upon high school graduation. Some time ago, Christian pollster George Barna documented that 61 percent of today’s 20-somethings who had been churched at one point during their teen years are now spiritually disengaged. They do not attend church, read their Bible or pray.
Wowzer. That’s a high stat. Let’s break it down, eh?
First, this was a five week, three question survey. The questions consisted of:
1. Are church “youth group” programs a biblical way to reach young people?
(Yes, no, it’s complicated)
2. Does modern youth ministry concern you?
(Yes, we’re losing our kids and it’s clearly not working to to train mature believers; Yes, it’s too shallow and entertainment focused; Yes, because of both a and b; No, it’s not perfect, but it’s striving to relevantly communicate the gospel)
3. Does the Bible give clear direction and boundaries for disciplining youth in the church?
(No. The Bible gives us the gospel, but how to reach youth with it is up to us to figure out in each generation; Yes, but there is a lot of flexibility since the Bible doesn’t say much about specific methods; Yes, the Bible gives us all the direction we need to disciple youth and constrains us from using worldly innovations.)
Okey dokey smokey. Something rather large jumps out at me just from reading the multiple choice answers: it appears they didn’t ask actual kids these questions. They’re apparently formulated for adults to answer, conjuring answers based one… I don’t know what.
But Charisma reports this:
“Today’s church has created peer dependency,” McManus says. “The inherent result of youth groups is that teenagers in the church are focused on their peers, not their parents or their pastors. It’s a foreign sociology that leads to immaturity, a greater likelihood of sexual activity, drug experimentation and a rejection of the authority of the Word of God.
Holy cow. What church does this guy attend? I can’t recall people in my youth group engaging in those activities. I asked my son if his group did these things and his response was, “I have no f-ing clue. What on earth are you doing over there anyway?”
I guess I’ll quit drilling him on his youth group experiences…
Back to the article:
Cameron Cole, youth director at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Ala., says, “There is a propensity in our culture to outsource the development of our children. For intellectual development, we send them to school. For athletic development, we send them to Little League. And for spiritual formation, we send them to youth group. The church has done a poor job of communicating to the parents that they are the primary disciplers of their children. Parents don’t believe this, but the reality is that kids listen to their parents far more than they’re going to listen to a youth minister.”
I guess I was a bad mom. I’m not an expert scholar so I sent my son to public school. I wasn’t a fabulous athlete so I sent him to the soccer team. I don’t know squat about computers so I allowed the local college to grant him a degree. He didn’t have any siblings so he signed up for after school activities. I pretty much suck at outdoor stuff so he became an Eagle Scout, all without my fingers in his pie.
Despite all that outside influence, I think he turned out super. Poor kid.
As for that survey… perhaps they’re asking the wrong questions to the wrong people. If you want to find out why kids quit church, perhaps you should do something crazy like… ask them. Now, wouldn’t that be novel.