I have been the Youth Pastor of CommUNITY Church since March of 2014. Over the course of these almost 3 years we have had, for the most part, a typical youth group; especially when you consider the size of our church.  We have consistently gathered together on Sunday nights from 6-8 pm. We try to play some fun games followed by a Bible study that we hope in some way will increase each teenagers love for the Lord, which will then increase their love of the bible, which will then increase their commitment to it, which will then increase their ability to apply it.  There have been times that have felt like great successes and there have been times that have felt like we were failing these youth on every level.  We’ve had nights when 20-30 teens show up for a “bigger event”; like when we played Organized Mass Chaos, yet there have been nights when nobody shows up because in our society teens are busier than their parents.  In those times I’ve wondered if anything we are doing is working. Is this valuable? I ask myself; “Why are they choosing all of these other activities over coming to youth group?” The other leaders and I have even asked that question to the youth group. That very question reveals a serious problem with Youth Groups. Again, the question I’ve been asking has been “Why aren’t they coming?”. Why is that the go to question?  I will come back to that later.

The goal of our Youth Group from the very beginning has been to help these youth develop a deep faith that endures throughout their entire lives.  Too often, kids attend a church (and even youth group) only because they come from Christian families. They might identify themselves as Christians and they may even pray a “repeat-after-me prayer” asking Jesus into their hearts, but all too often they will turn from the church and their faith as soon as they leave home.  Some return. Many don’t.  Many people will claim that this is just a rite of passage.  This is just a normal part of growing into an independent adult. However, if we believe the Bible then we should actually take this very seriously.  Let me be clear that I’m not condemning those who question or doubt or even leave a church. We as a church want to be sure to affirm that having and asking questions is a good thing. That’s why we do Post-Script every Sunday after our service. We encourage and welcome questions and those who question.  However, here is why we should take this seriously. 1 John 2:19 says

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.”

If the trend is for teens in youth group to abandon faith in Christ once they leave youth group then what does that say about the effectiveness of youth group? Let’s imagine for a second that WetPaint had a huge lock-in and 60-70 teens show up.  Let’s say 20 prayed a prayer to receive Christ as their Lord and savior. Those same 20 start attending youth group every week and start inviting their friends to youth group and before we know it 60 kids are coming to a worship service for teens every week. We would all immediately rejoice and call that a huge success. In one sense maybe that’s right. There would be a large number of youth hearing the gospel and maybe even a large number of youth “getting saved”. The thought of that should excite any believer. The problem is that this image is the standard for youth group. This image is the goal of any youth group. This image also becomes the idol of many youth pastors. That’s not even a knock on youth pastors. If we truly believe what John says above, then calling this a success is extremely premature.  It allows us to have the appearance of being an alive and vital ministry when the truth is that we are dead (Rev 3:1).  The trend shows that youth, even those who appear to have real faith, leave.  John says, “If they were of us, they would have continued with us.” Again, I ask what does this say about the effectiveness of youth groups if the trend is for youth to “go out from us.” 

Of course there are those that God saves through a Youth Group. Honestly, that’s a big part of my story and why I’ve wanted to be a Youth Pastor. However,  was I saved because of Youth Group or did a perfect, sovereign God use imperfect people in a broken system to reveal himself to me? In addition, my family (even extended family) played the most significant role in me coming to know Christ. My coming to know Christ in youth group was largely the culmination of the prayer, teaching and consistent faith of my family combined with the prayer and teaching of my church and youth pastor. I was blessed to be a part of a family that taught about Jesus at home, a church that taught about Jesus, a youth group that taught about Jesus and have several older Christians sacrifice time and energy to help me walk with Jesus, even some who did not get paid to do so. 

So, what is all of this leading to? Let’s go back to the question I default to to when the youth group doesn’t seem to be growing in numbers. The question I ask when they choose other activities over coming to youth group. “Why do you choose other things over youth group?” or "Why don’t you come and invite your friends?” When I ask those questions I am implying that each teen should prioritize youth group over other life activities, like sporting events, dance competitions, or performance. Sometimes that’s not just implied but said directly. The intention is that if they prioritize coming to youth group they will then be equipped to go and share Jesus with their peers that are also involved in those same events. On the surface, this sounds great, but if we really think about it, isn’t that a little redundant? That’s exactly what church is about. Believers gather together to worship Jesus through preaching and singing so that they are equipped to go out into the community to be his witnesses in the world. The youth group model is to recreate what the church already does by excluding everyone but teenagers. What ends up being created is a different church that is missing one of the greatest aspects of the church. Paul lays it out this way in the book of Titus.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.” Titus 2:1-6

This boils down to older Christians teaching younger Christians how to live a life for the Lord. Older women teach younger women. Older men teach younger men. Here is the battle. Youth Group is not the same as Youth Ministry. We’ve traded away ministering to youth in favor of attempting to grow attendance in a youth group. Maybe this is why the vast majority of youth leave the faith.  The church needs youth ministry, but it does not need youth group. Youth need to be ministered to but they do not need to attend youth group. Unfortunately, we’ve made those one in the same. So instead of asking “Why aren’t you coming to youth group?”   Maybe the question I should have been asking is “How are you sharing Christ with your teammates, your family, your dance squad, your baseball coaches?” And “How can I help you live out your faith even when you choose not to come to youth group?" Maybe we shouldn’t have a youth group at all, but instead a church wide youth ministry that follows the Biblical pattern of the older teaching the younger.  Many Christians have bought the lie that adolescence is a holding place between being a child and being an adult. Therefore, even if we don’t notice, we’ve bought the lie that adolescents aren’t capable of doing anything other than just inviting friends to youth group to hear the gospel. We say men’s and women’s ministry is only for those 18 and up. Because somehow moving from 17 to 18 years old transforms someone from  boy to man or  girl to  woman. Are those arbitrary age numbers ever included in what the Bible says a man or woman should be? Not at all. Going back to Titus 2 again it says, Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness. Older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Do not get hung up on the world “older” here. The reason that Paul is addressing the older men and women specifically is because they are to teach the younger men and women to fulfill those qualities even while they are young. Never does the Bible say that only older people are to live for the Lord. Never does it say that only older people are to set an example of faith to the world. As a matter of fact it says the exact opposite. Paul writes in a different place

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” --1 Timothy 4:12

Age is no excuse. If the Holy Spirit dwells within a teenage believer then that teenage believer has everything that is needed to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. But are we as a church body helping them to realize that or are we holding them back?

Another picture of this can be found in Jesus’s mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. Both were likely under 18 years old when they were first entrusted with the task of parenting God in the flesh. The Bible calls Joseph a “just man” (Matthew 1) despite his young age. It says that Mary “found favor with God" (Luke 1). Even though they were young, God gave them a part in his plan to save the world. If God would himself do this, why would we think it should be any different for today’s teenagers? If God has called even teenagers to walk with him and contribute to his plan to save the world through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross then shouldn’t we all take part in encouraging, mentoring, and walking with them as we both walk with the Lord? 

In light of all that was mentioned above, the youth ministry at commUNITY Church is not ending. However, it is changing. Here are some of the key things the youth, families, and even everyone that attends commUNITY needs to know about how our approach is changing:

  1. The majority of our time will be spent in small groups and following the pattern indicated in Titus.
    • Males will meet with me Saturday evenings from 6-8pm, (Their idea not mine).
    • Females will meet with Katie Sloan (my wife ;)) Sunday afternoons from 4-6pm (Also, their idea)
  2. What happens to Sunday night gatherings?
    • We will meet as a large group together on alternating weeks.
    • Example: Sunday 1/22 we will not be meeting; Sunday 1/29 we will meet from 6-8pm, Sunday 2/5 no youth, Sunday 2/12 Yes youth.
  3. We want you to be involved
    • Prayer: We need our church to be committed to praying for each of the teens as they grow in the Lord or begin to inquire about him for the first time. We need to pray that God would give them such a great passion that any amount of popularity, acceptance, or reputation pales in comparison to the joy and satisfaction that they get from knowing and serving Jesus.
    • Serve: If you, regardless of age, want to be a part of what God will do through the life and faith of these teens then please contact me. Maybe you think you can help in some of the following areas
      • Games and fun: Can you plan games and/or fun activities that will get the blood flowing and help everyone to enjoy each other’s company?
      • Food: Do you have the ability to prepare meals for anywhere from 10-25 or more people. Do you have a passion for serving this way?
      • Mentoring: Do you want follow the pattern set in Titus and teach younger christians how to live in a way that honors the Lord?
      • Other?: Is God placing something on your heart that might be leading you into investing in teens at commUNITY?

The services areas mentioned above are by no means exhaustive, but are just meant to help you think about some ways that you might be able to jump in and be a part of a Church-Wide youth ministry. 

TO PARENTS: If you will provide me with your email address. I will send out weekly summaries of what we’ve studied from the Bible. This is not just to keep you informed, but to keep the conversation going so that you (if you aren’t already) can engage with you son or daughter about the Word of God.