Recently, several leaders and youth leaders gathered to talk about how churches could more closely work together in reaching youth in our community. Ray, the person who asked for the meeting spoke of attending many churches where there were virtually no children or youth and no interest in being a church for them. Yet nearly every church in his community declined over the last four years and may continue to decline if something doesn’t change.
We quickly agreed that churches could no longer start youth groups by simply hiring a college student, offering pizza, an evening of fun and possibly a Bible study. Many of our youth are already overwhelmed with choices as to how to spend their time.
One youth leader spoke of spending time at the local middle school, volunteering and speaking to several of the groups. He often ate lunch in the cafeteria and spent time getting to know the students. He spoke of the need for students to have a responsible adult to relate to.
Another person spoke of the importance of mission experiences where youth and adults traveled together to help people in need. There was a distinctive bond formed among youth and adults that often changed their perspective about ministry and the church.
Another youth leader summed it up: “Our youth yearn for a one on one meaningful and spiritual relationship with an adult. Youth ministry needs more committed adults who are willing to spend quality time invested in a relating with our youth. It starts with the pastor and is modeled by adults throughout the church. Youth leaders today should spend as much time teaching adult volunteers as they do interacting with the youth themselves.”
In the Bible, Paul said much the same thing to a young pastor named Timothy: “Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:1-2)
In other words: “Pastor or church leader, you have been taught the truth. Now teach people who will pass them on to others.”
Simple enough or is it?
Lovett Weems in his book, “Focus” wrote: “Eighty percent of the US population today does not fit in the profile of married couples with children at home. A church targeting married couples with children could potentially reach 20 percent of households. Even by expanding the reach to all married couples, the potential reach is only 50 percent of households.”
Using the Pew Research Center and the US Census Bureau Lovett points out:
- Decline in marriage. The percentage of married adults dropped from 72 percent in 1960 to just over 50 percent today.
- Delay in marriage. In 1960, 68 percent of all twenty-somethings were married; in 2008, just 26 percent were.
- Rise of single parenting. The percentage of children reared by a single parent was up to 25 percent in 2008 compared to 9 percent in 1960.
- Rise in children who lived with a grandparent. Of the 7.5 million children who lived with a grandparent in 2010, 22 percent did not have a parent present in the household.
- Rise in one-person households. One- person households grew to 27 percent in 2010 from 13 percent in 1960.
Here is what I learned:
The world has dramatically changed since 1960. We can no longer depend upon pat formulas if we are serious about witnessing the truths of our faith especially when it comes to our youth.
Yet the mission of our church has not changed. Remember the Scripture: “Teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”
If there is going to be a viable ministry to the youth of our community, our adults as much as our youth leaders must take an active interest. Successful youth ministry begins with a pastor who will personally model the importance of teaching the truth to others.
This is where I realized that the first person who needed to change was me. After the meeting, I spent time in prayer and reflection. Confession: I too must display a more active interest in youth ministry and model what it means to teach the truth to others. I must practice what I preach.
So, yesterday, I bought several bags of toiletry items. Why?
Today, I will join a group of our youth at a local downtown park to give away those toiletry items to people in need.
Is this the answer? No, but it’s a start.
Will you join me?