(As you can see from this joint ad by MTV and Pepsi, the erosion of spiritual foundation by popular culture isn’t just limited to Christianity.)
A report by Christianity Today recently shared the results of a survey conducted by Lifeway Research. The report showed that 70% of youth drop out of church. Unfortunately, for most people in church leadership, this is not a shocking statistic. Discussion has been circulating in Christian arenas for a while as to why young people are leaving the church. Although not shocking, it is a wake-up call that something may be missing in many church youth programs.
A quality youth development program can help you identify gaps in your current plan and give you valuable next steps to build a better program. The Bible is full of examples where God used young individuals to fulfill his work. Young people are capable doing great things, but sometimes they are not given the opportunity to grow and develop.
Young people need mature Christians in their lives investing into them on a regular basis. It’s important to identify the potential in young people and help them emerge as leaders. The training for our youth group does not have to stop in the youth room. It doesn’t have to be all fun and games either. When we empower our youth, we give them a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Great examples of this include youth mentoring. For example: A gifted young musician is a great fit to work with someone on the church worship team. The worship leader can invest in the young person’s spiritual life and help them grow in musicianship. This type of culture allows for development of church leaders for the next generation.
From helping in classrooms to running the sound board, there are many areas where youth can work alongside older Christians. It’s important for young people to feel connected to the rest of the church. This type of mentoring also helps develop a sense of belonging within the church.
Update 9/8/2020 – Developing Our Youth for Christ
We recently had a pastor from rural Africa asking us for some ideas on youth development and how to draw young people to Christ.
We’re finding this is a universal question. Pastors from New York to Nigeria struggle with this. How can we interest the young in the Gospel? How can we help them to live out a personal relationship with Jesus? Unfortunately, there is no map, no hard and fast rules but we do have a promise in Proverbs 22:6:
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it..
This does not mean we give up or leave youth development to chance. Children can be pointed toward spiritual markers that will help them find true faith.
Milestones for Establishing True Faith
The early years
Many pastors or parents start by teaching their toddlers fun Bible stories. The emphasis strongly fells on the fact that ‘Jesus is your friend.’
This might be true, but should you only focus on this, the foundation for spiritual wisdom is not being laid. What is the foundation? The foundation is respect and fear of God. The following truths are great to install respect for God in small children:
- Teach them that God is strong, and He can do anything.
- When He promises something, He will do it.
- There are rules that we must live by, and God disciplines us because He loves us so much.
- Even if nobody sees what you are doing, God still sees.
Walking with God’s Word
The next step is to teach kids to grow in wisdom. They need to start knowing God’s Word. Pastors or parents can focus on teaching children:
- God is righteous, powerful, and loving. There are lots of Bible stories that can be used to teach children about God’s character. Ask of every story: What can we learn about God from this?
- Where can we find the truth? From here on in life, children will be bombarded by ‘truths’ from the media, friends, and even teachers. How do they know what to believe? Teachers and pastors must be successful in teaching kids that truth and wisdom come from the Bible. It is the source. If one can establish this early on, children will struggle less with faith issues later in life.
- Man is not ‘basically good’. The humanistic culture around us teaches children that ‘people are good.’ It is not what the Bible says. The Bible says that we have all sinned and that we are actually all ‘bad.’ We are in need of a Savior. The young can only appreciate this fact until they realize that they are not ‘good’ apart from Him.
- Jesus is the only Way. Youth today find themselves in mixed company everywhere, rubbing elbows with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists. They need to know exactly who Jesus is and why He is the only Way.
Some research has shown that most people who love Jesus and trust Him accepted Him before they were teens. So, said another way, if the youth can’t be won for Christ by the time they are teens, the probability begins to decrease that they will do so. (Of course, we still believe that nothing is impossible for our God!)
A pastor must make sure that the children in his care fully understand the Gospel.
- Pray and ask God to show you those who are still reluctant to accept Christ. Ask questions to test the kids’ faith. “Why do you think you are a Christian?” and “Can you explain what Jesus did for you?” are some questions that can give you an indication of what a child believes.
- The youth must not only accept God’s grace but also learn to give grace to others. Grace means forgetting what is ‘fair’ and it gives others more than they deserve. It is the best way children can learn how to be like Jesus. Teaching this is not easy—the youth’s selfish nature will rebel! The pastor needs to model this way of life continuously.
Key Question #1: What will life hold for me?
Young teens everywhere ask this question. This is the time when religious leaders must discuss the ‘importance of trusting God with your future’ with each teen. The message is that God’s understanding is best, and He will make your ‘paths straight.’ A teen who invites God to take complete control of his or her life will have a strong foundation in the years to come.
Key Question #2: Why does God allow suffering?
Often the lack of adequate answers to life’s big questions will send a teen’s faith in a downward spiral.
The youth now needs their pastor’s stories of times in his life when God had everything work out for the better. They need to see that you still trust God and that He is sovereign. If you don’t have the answer to a question, commit to finding solutions together. Here is one of the best explanations we’ve seen on answering why God allows suffering.
Of course, the Internet is full of Biblical resources for pastors and youth leaders. Here are a few interesting websites we found:
(Use it for practical ways to underscore the truths that we’ve outlined here.)
In the end, however, it is the basics that count.
The Bible says in Acts 17:27 that, “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him—though He is not far from any one of us.”(New Living Translation.)
God wants to be found.
He did not give us complicated instructions, and He does not hide. A God-fearing and prayerful pastor will find ways to lead the little lambs to Him. You don’t need fancy requisites or a huge building–God planted you just where you are!