And the church is now debating youth groups…
The newest movement in the church world today is the “Integration of the Congregation”. The concept is such that our kids are falling away, as argued in one of many circles such as in this article; Charisma News; which discusses statistics showing youth groups are driving Christian teens to abandon the faith. The trend is leading the church to abandon their youth groups.
The debate seems to be about destructive peer pressure in church. The new thought process is that separating youth from parents in church waters down and annihilates any teaching of Godly principles, leaving youth abandoned to seek total downfall with their church peers. By integrating the youth with the adults, they will learn to become exemplary, well rounded, Christian grown-ups. In all the articles I’ve read on Family Integration, statics and scripture references are used to back up this theory: Deuteronomy 16:9-14, Joshua 8:34-35, Ezra 10:1, 2 Chronicles 20:13, Nehemiah 12:43 and Joel 2:15-16…to quote a few from the above article. But, if you look at these scriptures, they talk of feasts and assembly gatherings (you know…church), but do not mention youth groups. In fact, I don’t think anyone has found any scripture stating youth groups are not allowed. (Yet, the bible doesn’t mention cigarettes either. Just sayin’!) One of the verses used by most when it comes to family worship is Deuteronomy 6:4-7, which instructs fathers to teach the statutes to their children. Yes…the fathers to teach their children. So, is this proof we need to abolish youth groups and put everyone together?
And then…finally…here is a common sense article by Ed Stetzer debunking the theory that all youth groups are bad, posted in Christianity Today. Actually, he debunks the statistics used by arguments for the bad youth group theory. When the statistics are skewed, we are compelled to take another look at our theories. I am not at all against Family Integration, rather I am for it. But I am not against abolishing our youth groups either.
This post is obviously just my humble opinion…but my opinion is based on experience…from my own youth. You see, I had a drug problem. My parents drug me to church every week! (Bet you haven’t heard that one before! 😉 ) Seriously, that is about the one thing my parents did right. Part of my “testimony” is that I hated church…and youth group…from being a pretty messed up youth myself. I felt all the kids were either hypocrites or dorks. They were not the kind of kids I preferred to hang out with on a Friday night…and I didn’t. I partied. And partied. But, that’s another story…
In spite of hating youth group…the Gospel got in.
It. got. in.
And I came back. Not to church. I came back to Jesus.
Yes, some of my most pivotal memories are of little words, verses, or phrases, Ron or Lindell spoke here and there. And then, there are the Sunday school teachers who put up with us one hour a week speaking into our lives.
And the list goes on…
I’ve often wondered over the years how many of them thought they were wasting their time. How many of them thought I was a waste…
I wonder where I would be if the church my parents attended (quite by default due to my Grandma) did not have a youth group. Would I have created less trouble for myself and others? Would I be here today? No, I don’t believe so.
Listening to the many in favor of abandoning youth groups, I hear a resounding argument that the youth would be naturally sitting at home on daddy’s knee listening to him quote scripture every waking hour.
Maybe in a bubble.
Not in my family.
Not in today’s world.
Yes, we were a “Christian” family. We went to church. We talked the talk. But not once do I remember my dad leading in anything other than prayer before dinner on Sunday afternoon. Even if he wanted to, how could he? He was either on a ship somewhere or working 2nd shift during the week. Neither did his father, or his father before him. I don’t blame them, they were living as their fathers before them taught. They were doing the best they could. Our forefathers believed the way to show love to the family was to work and leave the teaching to Momma and the Public Schools.
Hey Church! That’s the real world.
Yes, I gathered some instruction from my family. But when a teenager is “troubled” their parent is the last person they will follow. That’s reality.
What would have happened if I did not have a youth group? Where else would I have gone for instruction? The very places that encouraged my self-destructive behavior to flourish: the world. Yes, the public school and, of course, peers.
Now, they say times have changed. We watched a clip in church this morning interviewing several Millennials about their perception of the world and what it was like to be a Millennial Christian. Their words took me back to my own youth. You know what? Nothing has changed. Not really. As a child of the 60’s & 70’s, I had the same outlook…round peg in a square hole. I have a sneaky feeling youth have experienced the same moods since Adam & Eve. We can blame it on almost anything, but common sense says the human body changes and we grow up, during which time we search for purpose…that inner longing for the choosing between right and wrong…searching to fill the hole created by our own sin. That hole which only God can fill. Youth grow to adults, and in the process, we all seek to fit somewhere in society. Heck, even the disciples jockeyed for position…trying to “fit in”.
Youth of any millennia will seek their place in adulthood. Where is the best place to navigate those roads? I believe both the family and youth groups are the answer. The best place is the place where they can find Jesus. If the youth are in a spiritually non-existent family, would they receive instruction outside of church? No. If the youth are in a spiritually non-existent church, would they receive instruction sitting in the pew next to their parents? No. Are there churches with youth groups that are simply play-time? Yes. Are there families who are only “Christian” on Sundays? Yes.
As for the theory of separation, in most American churches, after “Sunday School” is over, when the kids are old enough to sit for a spell (older than toddler age), the youth are always sitting (Integrated) in the church service…sometimes bored to death. But…the Spirit can work years later to bring back God’s word to a broken heart. God’s word which we never realized will reach into our deaf ears. And the “youth groups” that are in question? They always meet outside of Sunday morning services, such as a Sunday evening or mid-week night. Most active youth groups meet more than adult life groups! Would you rather your youth go to the parties I attended on the weekend or to a church youth event? I didn’t think so. Are there “bad” activities going on during church events? Sometimes…for we live in a fallen world. Are there “bad” activities going on during social, non-churched, events? Of this, I can assure you, almost always.
If you want to “fix” our youth, abolishing the group is throwing out the baby with the bath water. Preach to the fathers. Yes, instruct the fathers in how to teach their children. And in all reality, that may fail. Bad stats show somewhere around 50% in the church are divorced/single parent households, where it is more likely around 25-30%…which is still huge no matter how you look at the issue. Embrace those kids, as well as kids whose parents are unchurched. When the fathers are absent, create churches that will hire Youth Pastors and not Youth Directors. Train leaders who will be examples of Jesus to kids. Create an atmosphere where youth have a safe place as they learn to break the parental apron strings and grow into adulthood.
Then, and only then, will you have an explosion of salvation in our youth culture….our future!