How to Help Youth Stick with their Faith
This pivotal study contains survey responses from over 2,000 Canadian young adults and information gleaned from personal interviews of some of the respondents. It suggests several ways that parents, youth workers, children’s ministry staff, and others in the church can help youth to continue to follow Jesus. Here are four of them:
Help Parents Engage Spiritually
One of the recurring themes that surfaced was that those who continue to be engaged in their local church often had parents who modelled an authentic faith. They saw their parents praying and reading the Bible. Yet, even more than that, they saw their parents living out their faith in a way that impacted their everyday lives. They were not afraid to show their children how a Christian worldview can help them navigate through the challenges and opportunities they face. The implication is that when we help parents continue to grow in their faith, their children benefit in faith-sustaining ways.
Facilitate “God Moments”
One of the key differences between those who stay in the church and those who leave is the extent to which they experienced God. Those who can recall answers to prayer or who experienced God in worship, service, community or in some other way are more likely to press on with God later in life. Many of those still tracking with God experienced Him in a profound way through a camp or a short-term missions trip. The implication is that we need to create youth-friendly spaces (or encourage movement toward already created spaces) that help them experiment with and stretch their faith.
Invite Youth to be Vital Members of the Church Community
When youth feel like they truly belong in a church community, they are much more likely to stay within the church. In this kind of community, people care about them. Some even mentor them. Others in the church community see their gifts and encourage them to serve in meaningful ways. This gives youth an opportunity to make a difference – to feel like they are an integral part of the community. What are the implications for the rest of the church? Be friendly with youth. Include them in meaningful ways. Pray for and with them. Encourage them. Empower them to live out God’s call on their lives.
Make Christianity Relevant
Young adults who leave the church often say that Christianity is irrelevant. In their view, it does not address their deep longings and hard questions. Many of those who stay in the church share a different story. Their churches did not shy away from the difficult issues. As communities of faith, they wrestled through issues together. Teaching times were deeply biblical, but they showed how truth intersected with real life.
The Hemorrhaging Faith Study has much more to say. Yet, the findings I have shared challenge me as a parent and leader in the church. What is your response? How can we change the way we do church to better disciple our youth so that they are more likely to stick with their faith? Please feel free to comment below.
Note: If you are interested in finding out more about the Hemorrhaging Faith Study, you can watch eight sessions by James Penner, one of the authors of the study, on the MinistryLift Resources page (free access for MinistryLift members).
Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.