When I was in high school I attended youth group activities quite often. I was warned that at age 18 many teenagers leave church. I watched at age 16 though as many of my friends became disinterested in church. The exodus used to occur at 18-20 years of age, but now I am seeing signs that kids are leaving church at age 15 and 16. The church has lost its ability to connect with teenagers and even kids today. What has changed? Is the church doomed? I believe there are many answers to these questions. I also believe that we don’t want to hear some of the real reasons kids are leaving the church. I have three questions I believe we need to answer honestly.
Why is the church trying to compete with sports and activities?
Over and over I see programs at churches aimed at kids who want to play sports. The thought is “if you’re gonna play sports, why not do it at our church?” Many kids programs at churches rely heavily on using games and sports to keep kids involved. Churches are investing lots of man hours, money, and space in being the hip new place to play sports. When did the role of the church transform from teaching kids about God, to training kids to be athletes with a hint of spirituality. When did we stop going into the sports world as coaches making a difference, and start sectioning off our own little christian leagues with few if any lost people? When did Sunday morning become this big game we play with kids? We have themed rooms, professional stages, bright fancy areas for games, etc. When God sees us turning kids ministry into a carnival, do we really think He is pleased? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for top notch, first rate kids programs at church- if discipleship is the goal. With all the effort we have put into making kids and youth ministry in general more fun and exciting, why haven’t we seen a decrease in the numbers of young people exiting our churches. We aren’t just another fun place. We aren’t just another youth sports league. We are the church. Our job is to connect people with Christ, and teach them about His Word. Sadly not everyone will stick it out, but does this give us the right to fun it up to keep the numbers up? We are sacrificing the minds of real dedicated Christian kids to entertain the kids who just want to play soccer, dodge ball, or duck, duck goose. We’ve added so much stuff and fluff; the message is getting lost in the mix. We have to remember who and what we are, and what we are called to do.
Why is it that the role of a youth pastor is usually entrusted to someone who either has no children or is currently raising their children?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to entrust this position to someone with a little bit of experience with raising kids. Imagine a youth pastor helping parents raise teenagers, and explaining how to deal with a difficult 13 year old girl using the illustration of how he dealt with his daughter when she was 13. Instead I am 25 with no kids, trying to help people with decades more experience than me. Sadly by the time most guys have the experience, they’ve moved on into Associate or Head Pastor Positions. I admire guys who are 40, 50, and older who still work with teenagers. Because ultimately it’s the parents we are trying to help. Many churches have this idea that the youth or children’s pastor should be a kind of second parent to the kids at the church. The truth is my job as a youth pastor is to equip the parents to train their kids to be Godly young Christians. I can’t raise a child or teenager in 4-5 hours a week. If a child is going to make it, there has to be a solid home life backing up what is being taught at church. The same principle is true in schooling. A teacher can’t raise good kids, even with the 45 hours a week they have with the children. Kids are capable of being taught any and everything. So the question is what are Mom and Dad teaching them at home? Next what are they being taught at school? And finally what are they being taught at church? I decide what they are taught at church. I can only recommend Mom and Dad what to teach them at home. I have no say in what they learn at school. How do we as youth Pastors overcome this challenge? I believe we need to involve Mom and Dad as much as possible. Tell them what you see hear by and about their kids. Have regular meetings with parents and kids to explain the goals of raising good Christian kids. Ultimately we have to reach Mom and Dad and help them be the best parents they can be with God’s help. It won’t be easy. It’s not the 50’s anymore. Most homes have two parents working at least two full time jobs. Kids have more activities than to fill their schedule than ever before. Parents are busier than they have ever been. We need to lift these parents up in prayer and let them know we are rooting for them.
Are we willing to deal with the silent sins in our churches?
There are some sins you hear people talk about all the time. However, there is one sin I rarely, probably never hear mentioned. Pornography is one of those silent sins. We preach against lying, stealing, adultery, murder, drugs, drunkenness, etc. However, over 50% of Christian men struggle with pornography. Close to 51% of Pastors say internet Porn is a real temptation, while 37% say it is a current struggle. Right at 28% of those admitting to sexual addiction are women. Two-thirds of divorces cite the internet as a cause. Let those numbers set in for a minute. We preach and teach on things some are dealing with while the high majority of sin goes unquestioned. Now consider that people don’t just wake up addicted to porn. There is a first time for everything. The adult film industry says that 20-30% of its audience is children. The average age for exposure to porn for the first time is 11. Over 70% of teen girls and 66% of teen boys admit to posting sexually suggestive content. Over 70% of kids get a cell phone within 18 months of their 9th birthday. In a poll of 300 girls, 30% of them aged 9-15 admit to sexting.
The internet is available not just at home anymore, but on your cell phone. A child can view porn on their ipod with an internet connection. I know of a boy whose mom had no internet, and no cell phone. However, he used his ipod’s wi-fi to pick up his neighbors router, and would view porn for hours every night. We have to realize the stakes are higher than ever. We can’t be there 24/7 to watch over them. Therefore, we have to teach them the dangers of porn. The talk used to be sitting your kid down and explaining sex. I’m afraid today we need to start talking earlier about something else-porn. Your child will have plenty of opportunities to view it. Let them know early how dangerous it is.
The real reason we don’t deal with it is simple- because many of us are involved with it. We get nervous talking about it, because we are guilty of it. We have to get ourselves clean, and prepare our kids for the most abundant source of defeat they will ever face. We talk to our kids at church regularly about the dangers of phones, internet, texting etc. It’s real, we need to be real about it too.
So back to the original question, “Why are kids leaving the church?” If teens struggle with a sin (like porn) they feel they can’t overcome, and no one will talk about it, why would they stay. They see the hypocrisy in a church that claims to help people, but won’t help them with the sin that is crippling them. Porn is eating our kids for lunch, and we sit idly by ignoring it. It’s not going away. In fact it gets more and more powerful as technology advances. We are experiencing the shift to 3D, so is porn! HD is crystal clear but the next wave is 2k and 3k, cameras with 3x the resolution of an HDTV and 10X the resolution of old TVs. Porn will be there, enhancing the experience they have to offer through social media, internet, phones, TV, Ipads, etc. The enemy has found a silver bullet for ruining kids, adults, marriages, homes etc. He’s winnig because we aren’t even fighting. We have to stand up for our people. Church, deal with the sin in your pews! Your people will thank you.