And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. -Malachi 4:6
Picture me just over 10 years ago: I’m sitting on the couch in our high school room, stewing. And pouring my bitter heart out to my youth leader. Fighting with my parents is so exhausting! Why don’t they just trust me?
I pray constantly that I would not forget that feeling, because today it’s the same. Fads and certain problems come and go in the lives of teenagers, but the extreme emotions, the need for a caring adult to lend an ear, exerting independence, that never changes. Our response to it, however, must, because the circumstances have changed.
Our leadership team recently spent some time discussing the future of our youth ministry. The statistics are alarming, and point to a dire need for change in the way we minister to young people and to cross-generational churches in general (p.s. if you go to a church that doesn’t desire to be cross-generational… consider finding a new one).
- 88% of children raised in Christian families leave church at the age of 18, never to return (SBC).
- A majority of adults no longer consider Christianity America’s default faith (Barna).
- 64% of decisions for Christ are made before the age of 18, and 77% are made before the age of 21 (Barna).
But more than that, the scriptures point to a flaw in age-segregated ministry in general: the Israelites didn’t do it, and Jesus didn’t do it. For example, a simple search for the term “little ones” in the ESV reveals the children of the people of Israel: they go along, they are sent, they are protected, they stand before the Lord along with their parents, they inherit blessing, they possess land.
Besides Jesus, it seems that Peter was the only adult among the apostles, in that he was required to pay a temple tax, which came with age. So, it could be said that Jesus led the first youth group. Maybe so. It became the foundation for the first church, which was not all young people (obviously).
I’m not arguing against bringing young people together regularly, but for refocusing on why we do that, and for doing what we can to ensure that kids who meet Jesus in middle school don’t abandon Him in college.