I have heard pediatricians spend as much of their time reassuring nervous parents as they do treating the sick child.
The same can be said about parents of students who worry over their children’s choices, salvation, church attendance, Bible knowledge and schedules.
As a former associate pastor to family and youth ministries, I fielded questions on the topics on a regular basis from parents.
I would often reassure families that their student was normal and that this time of life involves pushing boundaries, figuring out what they believe and trying to apply these beliefs to life.
One question I always struggled with was, “Should we leave this church/youth group for another church that better fits our needs?”
I received recently an email from a parent who was concerned over their child’s presence at church and this was one of the many questions I was asked.
While each situation is unique, I would challenge parents and students to ask three questions before leaving their youth group or church in search of more entertaining or dynamic settings.
1. What does removing someone from a church or youth group because “it’s not meeting my needs” teach our students?
By removing students from their original church family, are we inadvertently teaching them that when something in a church doesn’t go their way, they are allowed to simply leave that congregation and go elsewhere?
We are facing an epidemic of church-hopping in our culture. We approach church too often like consumers of a store or favorite restaurant. When we don’t get our way, we begin to shop around.
Maybe in a season when a youth group or church is not “meeting my needs” (whatever that may mean for you), instead of looking at it from a consumerist mindset, what if we looked at it from a service point of view and asked ourselves, “What am I contributing to this youth ministry?”
Could I as an older student perhaps be mentoring a younger student? Could I be sharing my testimony or leading small group conversations or even teaching/preaching from time to time? Could I help the leaders set up activities, organize a mission project or make suggestions on how to improve the setting?
2. Why do we want our youth groups and churches to look like summer camp all the time?
I have organized and led countless summer camps and youth retreats. They are a powerful experience that gets students and leaders out of the regular routine of life to focus for a brief time on their spiritual development in a fun setting.
I have seen many youth become Christians, rededicate their lives and answer calls to ministry in a camp experience.
But camp is not designed to mature and grow students. They are flash points that start fires that need to be kindled in the local church context and brought to maturity in the home.
Camp is like a PowerBar – lots of sugars, proteins and carbohydrates to get you going but a steady diet on them will quickly lead to malnutrition.
The local church on the other hand is the place where we provide healthy balanced meals.
Discipleship, service, mentoring, mission, evangelism, sorrow/grief, failures, accomplishments and a thousand other things are worked through at the local church. We practice the Christian life we committed to at camp in the church.
Why would we want our youth groups to look like summer camp?
When parents and teens tell me they would rather go to a “fun” youth group where there is lots of cool games, music and a celebrity-like speaker, I ask them to see how many of their graduates are still in church in their 20s and 30s.
We have a well-documented disappearance of young adults in the church right now.
Some of the answer might be that we have fed our kids “PowerBars” for 18 to 20 years then when they become adults, we suddenly expect them to have the strength and maturity of a person who has lived on a balanced diet. They cannot do it. So they leave instead of facing the fact they are malnourished.
We must develop ministries that are of quality. But I would always rather err on the side of discipleship than attractional techniques.
3. Why are we afraid of our students questioning their faith?
As part of growing up, young adults challenge and question everything. It is not a bad thing.
If they never begin to question what they believe, what they end up with is an adopted faith of a parent or youth pastor.
I would encourage parents to allow their students to ask questions in the context of their family and church fellowship. Context matters.
We need to encourage students to challenge and question their family and church family about what they believe and why they believe it.
Have them write out or talk through their beliefs and why they believe it. Have them write out and talk through their struggles.
Don’t always provide immediate answers. Allowing them to wade through the tough inquiries and walking with them through the process of reflection is more important than a pre-packaged answer.
Before students and parents leave a church because “it’s not meeting their needs,” it is important that they first ask these questions.
If we are the body of Christ and a member of our body leaves, we all suffer.
The person who leaves might feel better in the short term, but in the long run they are learning to become church consumers who live off of PowerBars and never learn to struggle and mature in their faith in the same way one who struggles through these same issues can in a long-term local church relationship.
Churches suffer because they are always trying to create gimmicks to attract people.
The body of Christ suffers because we are constantly doing organ transplants that require lots of time to recover.
Greg Mamula is an ordained American Baptist minister and serves as the associate executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He blogs at Shaped By The Story, where a longer version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @GregMamula.
Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister and Region Missionary to American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He is a husband, father of two, author and baseball fan. His latest book, “Table Life: Five Spiritual Habits of Discipleship” (Judson Press) is scheduled to be released fall 2020.