Having worked with youth in ministry for about thirteen years, over the last decade – and especially in the last couple of years – I have witnessed a disturbing trend. Increasingly, sports participation and extracurricular activities are priorities above and beyond church attendance for teens in today’s culture. While I realize that the church competes with much more than it used to, as one who remains passionate about youth ministry – even as the distance between my own age and adolescence grows much longer and larger! – I present to you my Top Reasons for Sending Your Teen to Youth Group.
V When neither parent attends church regularly, only 6% of children will grow up to be faithful to Christ. “God, in his perfect wisdom and plan, has chosen to do his work through the family.” Walt Mueller, author of Understanding Today’s Youth Culture, reminds us that God – we see in His scriptures, as well as today – uses the family to bring his children to himself. In other words, from the time they are born, our children and grandchildren model our words and behaviors. They not only copy what we say but also what we do. They learn and develop their values based on our teachings, as their family. We must model the importance of our faith in Jesus Christ by making our devotion to God visible and tangible to our children. A practical way to do this is to attend worship, to bring our children along, and to encourage our children to attend age-appropriate activities at church, including youth group.
V Your teen needs you to set priorities for them. How important is our faith in Jesus Christ? Paul writes to Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (2 Timothy 1:5). Paul realizes that Timothy’s foundation of faith was built in his family. Paul continues in this passage by encouraging Timothy to use his God-given gifts. The foundation for our children lies in our families, and the church works alongside of parents to offer teens a safe place to discover the gifts God has given them.
V In youth group, kids find opportunities for service of others and leadership development. Our youth ministries at Orenco are designed for those in sixth through twelfth grade to grow in their faith. They are encouraged to have fun, to be themselves, to discover their gifts and talents, and to develop practical skills that will serve them in college and into adulthood. Likewise, they are shown Christ’s call to servanthood, are given opportunities to help those in need, and are exposed to deep need in our community and world. In other words, God shapes their hearts and teaches them to be compassionate people.
V “What do you like best about youth group?” I asked. “I am able to be myself,” she answered. Teens tell me often that youth group is a safe place to be themselves. They are encouraged to act silly and to have fun without the judgment that so often divides peer from peer in our schools. It does not matter what they wear or look like, what they are good at, how much they know, question, or understand – everyone is listened to and respected. Everyone is loved.
V “I don’t have any people,” one teen explained. “We are your people,” the other replied. At youth group, teens find a support system of peers, as well as significant adult mentors. Research and common experience both show that teens need significant adults in their lives other than their parents. All teens are in need of safe and loving adults who will listen, guide, and mentor them. Their relationships with adult mentors are of vital importance, as are their relationships with other teens who are being raised in the church. This is a part of their foundation, and when there are tough choices to be made or friendships that are divisive or unhealthy, teens embrace other peers at youth group with whom they share common values.
V Your teen has important questions. As we grow in our faith, we begin to ask questions, and this is natural, normal, and an important part of growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ. For your teen, asking questions is different from doubting or rejecting the faith he or she has grown up with. In youth group, teens hear a talk or message from the Bible and are presented material that is age-appropriate in a relevant and exciting way. They then are encouraged to discuss the material and their questions alongside fellow students and adult mentors. What better place to begin to sort out some of our struggles?
V Your teen is bombarded with more challenges than we ever were. At youth group, teens learn what it means to follow Christ. Depression, eating disorders, and self-mutilation were not as common when we were in high school. In addition to alcohol and drug abuse, we now have a longer list of challenges to worry about for our children. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. Struggles with stress, depression, and anxiety are as common as struggles with schoolwork. Simply put, our youth need something – or someone – to follow other than their peers, who may be making poor choices. They need the transformative power of Christ. Youth Culture 101 reminds us that “… there’s nothing that can replace the hope that comes from realizing one’s created purpose to be in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” Kids need that hope.
I am a busy person. I know all too well that the demands on our time are more challenging than they ever have been. I also know though that God worked through very significant relationships in my life as a teenager to show me that life without Him would be a loss, only a loss. I am so blessed to be a part of your teens’ lives. They are in my prayers, as are your families. May God honor our very best efforts to show them the love of Jesus Christ and life in Him.