Churches in the United States overwhelmingly seem to understand that we have a responsibility to care for and meet the unique needs of the young people who are part of our congregations. Unfortunately, in an effort to engage youth, we seem to be creating just another venue for entertainment. As examples, I offer up, "Movie Night", "Top Chef Night" and even, "Zombie Night". Is there any theological relevance to this approach?
Over the next few weeks, all of the children, youth, and young adults from our church will be returning to their various schools. With the return of school, many families begin to think about going to church. For some, it is a return to a routine that they have fallen away from, and for others, there is a realization that their children are growing older and that maybe it is time to attend to their children's spiritual needs.
One question that seems to come up as families look for a church is, “Does your church have a youth group?” Happily, I tell them that while we have youth, we do not have a “youth group” and here is why:
Youth groups were formed in the 1950's as an attempt to keep young people from leaving the church as they grew older. I suppose too that it was an effort to make church more relevant and interesting. The problem is that now the evidence is in, and guess what? It hasn't been successful.
The current popular models to which the churches in the United States continue to cling have really failed the majority of our youth. Young people are not all cut from the same cloth and that is why most youth programs often become socializing and entertainment with sporadically placed spiritual messages that just don't really hit the mark. Mentoring done by faithful Christian adults is far more productive than additional peer interactions. (Think about it -- do young people really need more peer interaction?)
New Hope's philosophy is centered around the idea of a "faith community" or "church family" that rarely breaks out into specialized demographic groups. We try to match young people with adults of similar interests and provide a high level of mentoring in and outside of the church. This approach creates friendships and provides spiritual and emotional support. When well-matched mentoring occurs, and continues on through the post-high school years, it is much easier to retain and maintain faith.
The bottom line is that everyone wants to feel loved and useful, and this type of approach allows those feelings to flow across the demographic variances in the church.
Many middle and high school age youth seem to be searching for stability and purpose. While this has always been so, it is increasingly so now with the high rate of divorce, mobility of the population and the increasing economic insecurity. The greatest gift that we can give our children is the idea that their lives are anchored by God who is real and present and to whom they might turn for guidance.
A calmness and purpose seems to fill the life of young people who, because they know and believe that God has a specific plan for their future, begin to seek knowledge of that plan with their faith community.
I'm proud of the youth and children at New Hope. They are confident in their faith and they do seem to have purpose and focus. I would like to think that our church family helped to bring that about!
Next week, on Sunday afternoon we are meeting as a church family at Blue Licks State Park just north of Lexington, to pray for each of our children, youth and young adults as they begin this fresh new year. We will pray for their safety and their studies, but we will also pray that they will know the presence of Christ throughout the year and that they will also represent him through their words, thoughts and actions.
Families from the community are invited to join us for this prayer time, or if they are unable to attend, any parent may contact the church and add their young person's name to the list of those we will pray for. As always, we would consider praying for your loved one a privilege.