the weblog of Alan Knox

What about teenagers?

Posted by on Sep 28, 2009 in community, discipleship, edification | 6 comments

There is a very provocative article at “LeadershipJournal.net” called “Is the Era of Age Segmentation Over?” The article is based on research that shows that the most important factor in the life of a teenager who remains “in church” through and after college is the number of mature believers with whom that teenager has a real relationship.

Hmmm… imagine that. Its not the programs offered, or the skill of the teacher, or the videos and dramas. Its relationships. And, not just any kind of relationship. Well, here, listen to the researcher (the article is in interview format):

What can churches do to increase the likelihood that our kids stay in church after they graduate?

I think the future of youth ministry is intergenerational youth ministry.

At this point in our research, we’ve found that one thing churches can do that really makes a difference is getting kids actively involved in the life of the church before they graduate.

There is a strong link between kids staying in church after they graduate and their involvement in intergenerational relationships and worship. It’s important, we’re finding, to get beyond a token youth Sunday and start thinking about how to involve kids as ushers and greeters and readers and musicians in our services.

We’re also finding a relationship between teenagers serving younger kids and their faith maturity when they graduate from high school. Teens should not only be the objects of ministry; they need to be the subjects of ministry as well. It’s the 16 year old that has relationships with 66 year olds and 6 year olds who is more likely to stay involved in a faith community after she graduates…

It sounds like you have high expectations of what youth can and will do.

Teenagers are up to the challenge. In our college transition project, we asked high school seniors what they want more of in youth group. Time for deep conversation ranked highest. Games ranked last. That’s one example of how we’re currently undershooting. Tenth graders study Shakespeare. What are we offering them at church? Nothing comparable to Shakespeare.

How else can churches foster intergenerational relationships?

There’s a standard ratio in youth ministry: one adult for every five kids. My colleague here at Fuller, Chap Clark, says we need to reverse the ratio and strive for having five adults build into one kid.

When I say that to youth workers or pastors, they tense up. I’m not talking about five Bible study leaders or five small group leaders per teenager. I’m talking about five adults who care enough about a kid that they learn her name, ask her on Sunday how they can be praying for her, and then the following Sunday ask her, “How did it go with that science test?” Our study shows that even these baby step connections can make a real difference.

So relationships are as important as worship styles?

More important. And I think one of the real advantages of being a smaller church is that there is a lot more potential for intergenerational relationships and longer lasting faith. It’s a general rule that the bigger the church the more segmented the age groups and generations are from each other. So I look at a church of a hundred and think, Man, what potential there is to have meaningful relationships.

By the way, I’m not interested in whether or not teenagers stay “in church.” I am interested in whether or not they are maturing in their faith and remaining faithful to God.

Also, if you read the entire article, you’ll see that the researcher offers examples and suggestions of how to add “intergenerational relationships” into the standard youth programs. I’m not concerned about the youth programs. I’m not convinced they are beneficial, but that’s not the point.

The point is that we cannot “program” relationships. For example, the author discusses a six week class where teenagers are brought together with 70 year olds. That’s great. But, what happens after that class. Strong, life-changing relationships are not built in six one-hour classes.

So, what are parents and churches to do? Foster relationships between teenagers and more mature believers. Invite teenagers to spend time with you and your family. Invite them to serve with you. Get to know them. Find out where their struggles are and help them with those struggles.

If your teenager is more introverted, or if you know a teenager that keeps to himself or herself, then it may take more intentionality on the part of the parents and other believers to get to know that person. (Of course, that would be true of any person who is more of an introvert.)

We must recognize that fellowship and discipleship are everyone’s responsibility. The same is true when it relates to teenagers. The teenagers, their parents, and others in the church must take an active role in one another’s lives. If teenagers want deep relationships, then they should initiate the contact. If the parents want their teenagers to have discipling relationships, then they should offer the opportunities for their teenagers to get to know other people. If others want relationships with teenagers, then they should approach the teenagers. It is all of our responsibility.

As I think about this, and as I think about the teenagers that I’ve interacted with, I recognize that teenagers are much like all other believers. They have struggles and doubts and sins and uncertainties and strengths and weaknesses. For many that I’ve talked to, they don’t need another apologetics series, they need to someone to encourage them when they’re having times of doubt. They don’t need another True Love Waits campaign, they need several mature friends who can encourage and challenge them daily when they are facing those temptations.

Again, I’m not talking about adding a time of “intergenerational ministry” to a youth program. I’m talking about including teenagers in our lives. Parents, we should certainly include teenagers in our own lives, but they need relationships with other mature believers, too.

As we are attempting to live in community with one another, we must not forget the teenagers. They are also brothers and sisters in Christ. We can disciple them and we can be discipled by them.


6 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-28-2009

    Great ideas about incorporating youth into the church instead of continually isolating and entertaining. I think teens grow tired of being entertained…it won’t keep them. I think when we expose them to something bigger than they are, to something worth living and dying for…that’ll keep them walking with Christ more than silly games and lock-ins.

  2. 9-28-2009

    Alan,

    I don’t want to jump on the “homeschool” wagon, but one of the reasons we homeshcool is that it provides our children with relationships with people outside of their immediate age group.

    With our seven children, they get this in our home. Fourteen year old helps with five year old, 21 year old helps with eight year old, etc. It’s amazing how well adapted young adults(12+) are in dealing with children when they are given the chance. They know how to soothe a crying baby or comfort the five year old who stumped his toe.

    The scripture “foolishness is bound up in the heart of child…” is great reason not to segregate our children. Why would we want to put a bunch of fools together in the same room? Young people need that interaction with different age groups, both up and down.

    You don’t have to homeschool to get that interaction. It should start in the family and then be reinforced in the gathering of the saints.

    We must remember that the term “teenager” is a relatively new word and concept. It is totally foreign to scripture. You could do a whole post or article on the history of teen or youth ministry. It promotes the removal of parental authority and responsibility to a youth minister. I will say no more……

  3. 7-13-2011

    Deuteronomy 6:7 works

  4. 12-27-2011

    Awesome!!!!!!!!!! You speak my heart cry! As a mother of 7 children …this is a great need especially for those of us who do not have extended family members who are walking with Jesus. I really appreciate your post!

  5. 6-11-2012

    Here I go again with “at Connections.” BUT – at connections we do this with our children. We have about 20 in one “class” with ages ranging from 3 years to 5th grade. We have a nursery that cares for new born to 2ish. + today our our weekly staff meeting we are discussing how to integrate our youth from middle school-college. It’s not perfect but its moving ion the right direction.

    doing our children like we do faced opposition for a long time mostly from people who had served in “church” for many years. People who worked in the school system had trouble making the adjustment as well. also, the people of connections knows full well that these “services” are available during our teaching time IF the family thinks it is good for their individual circumstances. Almost every week the people are reminded that we are a family and that children are welcome to stay in the larger room during the teaching.

  6. 4-2-2013

    Teens are a part of life, why do many divide us up as if we are goods on a self? The younger ones tend to see what we do not, apparently. Relation belongs to all of us and in all of us. The programs are designed by humans controlling humans. Guess what? Christ is not program, He is Life, our Life.

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