Our youth group got a Sunday evening off during the Advent season. Rather than doing the usual youth Bible study the youth were invited to participate in the “adult” group. Only three of them showed up.

In the middle of the first hymn, one of the youth popped up and decided that he had more interesting things to do. He grabbed his jacket and headed home.

This “anti-congregational” attitude in our youth group is not unique. Students are incredibly committed to the youth ministry and most any youth event. Yet, any time they are encouraged to join the rest of the church, most of them are, at best, unexcited.

Is this attitude being promoted by the trend in youth ministry to develop programs and events that are focused on growing a youth group rather than developing a part of a church? Are our churches so segregated by age that we can’t see each other anymore?

In the small church I grew up in, my relationships with the adults and pastor were an important part of my faith experience. I learned service and Christian fellowship by going with my parents to church clean-ups and polishing pews with members of our congregation that ranged in age from 20 to 80 years old. I went to men’s Bible study groups with my dad. I even sat through business meetings and took advantage of my obligation to vote on important church decisions.

In those experiences, I learned to see myself not as a “youth” but as a member of my church. I was a part of a church that happened to have a youth group. I was not a part of a youth group that happened to meet at a church.

Youth groups are important. A youth group offers spiritual friendship and understanding to students in a special way.

The concern is that in programming and planning we are not balancing our commitment to youth ministry with church ministry. Thus, young people do not balance the youth group and church.

Just as there is no Jew or Greek, can we not argue that there are no teenagers or retirees? To disregard our call to diversity is to miss the lessons we can learn together by tolerating our differences and uniting our strengths. Are all of the church’s body parts united, or, are we fingers, toes, and elbows that are flexing our own muscles without regard for one another?

In 15 years, when one of those youth group members is having marital problems or needs someone to hold them accountable in their faith, to whom will they feel comfortable seeking advice? What human relationships will tie them to the body of Christ when their relationship with God might not be flourishing?

What can we do to help youth make a lifetime church connection?

  • On nights when adult and youth programs coincide, do a periodic joint group activity.
  • Encourage youth to come to all church events, not just those sponsored by the youth ministry.
  • Seek diversity among your chaperones and adult leaders. While the senior adults in your church may not want to chaperone the next trip, they may have some great ideas for developing service projects.
  • In teaching situations, help youth understand that adults are not necessarily “dry” or “spiritually dead” because they enjoy hearing pipe organs in worship. Folks experience the same God in different ways.
  • Take them to an occasional church business meeting.
  • Share with your pastor and other church leaders the names of some youth who might be capable of serving on various church committees. This may be a kitchen committee, worship team or another group that will allow them to interact with adults outside of the youth ministry.
  • Encourage youth to be present for and involved in the worship service of the whole church community.
  • Keep youth involved in the prayer life of the larger church by recognizing prayer concerns of the congregation. Many churches have a prayer list available.
  • Encourage youth to do service projects that help in the upkeep of the church building in areas outside of the youth department.
  • Occasionally invite a pastor or deacon/ elder to a youth discipleship meeting for a brief discussion of upcoming church decisions (i.e. a building project, new outreach program, or worship service). This will help youth feel like their input is important to the rest of the church.

Johnny Lewis is associate minister at First Baptist Church Middlesboro, Ky., where he works with youth and children’s ministries. He is also a seminary student at the White School of Divinity at Gardner Webb University.

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