(Newsletter 2011 Annual)
Youth ministry is an important component of every church. Church leaders are well aware that the future of the church depends on the next generation. However, research and experience show that when youth graduate from high school and go on to college, many leave the church. Even those who are once involved in youth groups struggle with their faith when they enter college.
This growing concern has prompted Fuller Seminary in Pasadena to establish the Fuller Youth Institute. The mission of the institute is “Leveraging research into resources that elevate leaders, kids, and families”.
In an interview with Dr. Kara E. Powell, the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), she gave an insightful view of the state of young people today. “If I were to describe the youth in two words, they would be ‘hurting’ and ‘open’. As families are becoming fractured and adults are busy, kids are feeling more and more abandoned. At the same time, they are open to the Lord, and to adults who will take the time to listen to them and care about them.”
Dr. Powell’s research at FYI indicated a few reasons why youth are leaving the Christian faith. One primary reason is the lack of parental involvement. Dr. Powell explains it this way.
“Parents often think they can outsource the faith development of their kids to the church, but they really can’t. Ideally they take the lead in their kids spiritual growth, and the church reinforces what is already happening in the home.”
Often the teaching that the youth are getting is not the right message. FYI found that many kids only know the gospel as a do and don’t list, because the adults are overly behavior focused.
“Kids don’t really know the Biblical gospel. They know what Dallas Willard calls the gospel of sin management, the gospel that’s more about behaviors rather than the gospel of grace, the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul describes,” says Dr. Powell. The result is that when they fail in their behavior, they think they don’t have faith anymore.
FYI research also found that kids who drop out are generally segregated from the rest of the church, only participating in the youth group activities.
“We are seeing how important it is for kids to be involved in the overall life of the church. We see inter-generational ministry as being vital for kids to maintain their faith,” says Dr. Powell.
What can we do to better minister to the youth at church? Dr. Powell suggests four practical way churches to be more effective in guiding their youth:
1) Surround kids with adults of all ages who care about them. More inter-generational interaction can foster a stronger faith in the youth.
2) Teach the Biblical gospel of salvation and God’s grace. God is bigger than all their mistakes, and encourage kids to turn back to God when they’ve failed.
3) Teach parents how to have spiritual conversations with their kids. Parents do not have to be perfect, but to be transparent for their children to see their walk with God.
4) Youth ministry need to focus on developing relationships with the youth, rather than being program oriented.
The Fuller Youth Institute website has many useful articles and resources for ministry to parents and youth. For more information, visit www.FullerYouthInstitute.org.