I don't like my time wasted. You might as well steal my money because my time means that much to me. You and I work hard to cultivate student ministry programs that serve the teenagers, families, and church community in which we lead. And like you, I want to ensure that I am investing my time in the most appropriate, impactful, and significant ways possible.
Chuck Bomar and Jared Herd presented a fantastic dialogue on the great issue facing our church: the fast and steady decline of teenagers and young adults from the mainline, evangelical Church in America.
For students who have attended my student ministry environments - as well as yours - beginning as Freshmen through their Senior year of high school, I will have invested more than 1,000 hours into developing leaders, environments, events, teachings, and contact work for that student and others. And according to recent stats from several research groups across the theological and social spectrum, there is about a 70% chance that every one of my graduating seniors will ditch faith after high school. And the bad news? So will yours.
All of this beckons the question: what can I do to protect my investment into the Kingdom of God and the church community after that student graduates?
The Barna Research Group asserts 6 reasons for why the Slow Fade consistently takes place amongst high school students in most churches across America. Teens think:
1. Church is Overprotective. Teens make mistakes. There's no getting around it. They will fail. Most of them will have sex (secret: most of them already have!) They're going to drink… often! They might wreck the car. They swear. In general, teenagers make mistakes, and they will fail. And so did we! What would it look like for the church to create a safe and gracious place for teenagers to fail forward, rather than creating an impossible hedge around them that implicitly communicates shame during times of failure?
2. Church is Antagonistic Toward Science. Teenagers presume that an impassable divide exists between the church and science. And church leaders, we need to acknowledge that we have been a bit antagonistic toward this relationship. We have not done our due diligence of research and collegial inclusion. Instead, we have made poor intellectual assertions that have only allowed this impasse to widen. There are many reasons and explanations for why this has happened. At the end of the day, however, our actions have consequences, which have alienated an entire sect of our community who believes in and values the role of scientific method in our society.
3. Church is Shallow. This is a progression of the second principle. Teens think that the church provides simplistic, trite answers to complicated, profound questions. Teens have heard messages of evacuation from rather than rootedness into. The latter is messy. The former is easy. We need to opt in for the messy and journey kids through the mess and into restoration.
4. Church is Judgmental Toward Sexuality. All of us know how sticky this issue is. Sexuality is complicated and messy, and our response, as a church community, has indeed been shallow and overprotective. We have not allowed for much in the way of discussion, doubt, wrestle, or confusion. Instead, I want to echo the good words of Reggie Joiner: "Plan B is still Plan A in the economy of God." This doesn't make sense. It isn't supposed to. Grace often doesn't, nor is grace intended to be used as an excuse. We need to facilitate a more appropriate response to sexuality that keeps in tension the truth of Scripture with grace.
5. Church is Exclusive. It is. The church community follows certain presuppositions and truths. There's nothing wrong with that… until it bumps in the way of the inclusivity of Christ. The word, inclusivity, has been corrupted over the recent years an exclusive (ironically) term for certain conversations. Let's reclaim the radical and offensive inclusivity of Christ by remembering the cross… it's for everyone, and let's make that known for our teenagers!
6. Church is Unfriendly to Those Who Doubt. As Chuck Bomar so eloquently said in this breakout: "Doubt and Faith are not enemies, but they get along well together." One leads into the other and into the other. Keep in mind the Father in Mark's Gospel, "Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief." Our teenagers believe. Let's walk with them during their unbelief.
Stay with your kids. Walk with them. And in the words of my professor and mentor, Kenda Dean, "Give your kids something on which they can stake their lives."
QUESTION: How have you combat these systemic issues in your church to facilitate an environment for your teens to land and stay landed? What safeguards have you put into place to keep kids landed in your with your community?