I have long believed that strong connections with mature Christian adults in addition to their parents helps young people grow up to be committed disciples of Jesus Christ. They need to be totally integrated into the full life and ministry in the church, alongside adults. In a new article in The Christian Century, online and in print, called “Sticky Faith: What Keeps Kids Connected to Church,” youth minister Jen Bradbury looks at this topic. Here are some excerpts:
Youth ministry needs to be Christ-centered rather than entertainment-oriented:
“What every teen knows, however, is that the church is not cool. The good news is that the church does not have to be cool to be relevant. What the church has is Jesus, and he is enough. He is what differentiates the church from every other organization. He’s why the church matters. If the church matters because Jesus matters, then what youth ministries need more of are not entertaining activities but conversations about Jesus.”
Sustained contact with adults of all ages is important:
“Rather than aiming to have one adult leader for every five students, it’s better to aim for connecting every teen with five adults who are willing to invest in the teen in some way, even if rather small. According to LifeWay Research, “teens who had five or more adults from the church invest in them during the ages of 15 to 18 were less likely to leave the church after high school.”
Certainly, one way of connecting teens with adults is to utilize adults in our youth ministries as leaders. Such adult leadership teams are at their best when they, too, are intergenerational. This means that when we recruit adults to serve in our ministries, we need to look not just for the stereotypical youth worker—the outgoing, funny young adult in his or her twenties or thirties. Instead, we must also look for parents, empty nesters and senior citizens who are willing to spend time with teens, asking them questions and then listening to their responses and encouraging them.”
You certainly don’t have to be a big church for this to happen.
For further thought, see this article from the Christian Century archives: “Is Youth Ministry Killing the Church?”