Why 88% of Christian Youth are Lost – Voddie Baucham – YouTube (please watch the video before you read the article)
We Christians have a problem! Look at your fellowship this coming Sunday and ask where the young people are between 15 – 24 years of age. Where are they? Undoubtedly, the vast majority of you will know what I am talking about; our youth are missing and we need to confront the reasons why.
I want to add some thoughts on this mountain of a challenge that we Christians must face up to – and we really must, because our loss rate amongst our youth is catastrophic. Now I must confess, I am not a youth worker and I do not have direct experience with youth, but that does not mean that I am blind, deaf, and/or dumb!
I am not blind to the fact that each of our fellowships holds on to a handful of children, but then become clueless as to what to do with them once they become teenagers. I am not blind to the fact that such small groups have no groundswell, and leave the Christian child feeling that they belong to something odd, something rejected by their peers, whose opinions become very important to them at that age.
I am not blind to how our club churches treat the youth, almost like a tick box. It’s as if we have accepted that once they pass from childhood to teenage years – their fate is to walk away from the Church. Yet, what I perceive in the body of Christ is almost a resignation; an acceptance that there is nothing we can do about it. I refuse to accept that and want to offer to every youth worker and Bishop out there (there is no biblical thing called a ‘youth pastor’ – that is a church title) some reflections; not because I think I have the golden bullet answer, but as something for you to consider.
I’ve often written in this blog about ‘muscular Christianity’ as a sociological response to the challenges that we face as GOD’s people (You do believe the Church is GOD’s people, right?). Well, for this to be truly engrained in the Body of Christ, we Christians need to start cultivating it in our youth. I want to be clear, I do not think this is an issue that we can resolve on the ‘fellowship level.’ We need to be working in terms of the Diocesan level, or area level responses. Frankly, most fellowships do not have the resources to deal with this issue.
To every youth worker who reads this, I would humbly suggest three words that need to flow into all your engagements with Christian children and youth, as follows: Pride, Confidence and Commitment. These three watchwords will help cultivate the axioms of character building. Please allow me to make the following case. From direct experience, I have met countless Christian kids and youth who are embarrassed by their sense of Christian identity. They neither know their history (of the Church), their values (GOD, family, holiness, etc.), nor how to think about moral problems as Christians (virtue ethics). They do not know their customs (the festivals of the Church or how to embrace them) and, worst of all, they have no sense of pride in any of the above. In Christian circles, pride is often seen as a sin – for good reason – because it is! However, we are not talking of pride in one’s self, but rather pride in one’s identity as a Christian; a clear sense that they are happy and want to be Christian because being a follower of Christ is better than not being a follower of Christ.
Furthermore, they do not have much confidence in their identity as Christians. It’s shaky, nervous, fragile, and self-doubting. We need to instil confidence in our youth; that being a Christian is not just better than not being a Christian. They should have something to be proud of, such as the accomplishments of the Church, and feel emotionally and psychologically rooted in this history, and feel they can express it when asked, and boldly so!
Then, we need to cultivate in our youth a deep sense of personal commitment to Christ and the desire to follow Him; as the fragility of Christian identity in our youth reduces this dramatically.
From the outside looking in, I am asking, “why do so few of our youth stay with the Church past fourteen years of age?” I think a big part of our problem is our approach. Firstly and significantly, each fellowship in an area is operating as a club, trying to hold on to its few children into youth, when all of their friends are elsewhere. This could be remedied by Christian fellowships putting all their youth into a single group, in a single area, so that the overall number would be higher. Then, our youth workers could be organised around larger groups, from earlier on, so that they build up a more robust Christian network of friends whom they would want to continue hanging with. They would also imbibe a greater sense of confidence from belonging to a larger group, especially if that group was cultivating a Christian identity in terms of their history, values, beliefs, culture, customs, and moral education. Cultivating a sense of confidence, commitment, and conviction! These youth groups, with these qualities, may then become the place other youths want to be because they know so many people who already go there. I mean – Christian youth workers, do you believe that the youth in your fellowships are the only Christian youth around? I am sure you are more committed to handing on the faith than you are about making your particular struggling youth group work! Should we not be supporting one another? Let’s make the Christian community of our youths the thing people want to belong to because they have a sense of belonging, identity, and community. The challenge every youth worker will face, if you feel I might be onto something, is how to work out the details.
I would say that our other issue is that we focus so much on stories, beliefs, and belonging to a Christian group. This often feels like a boring talk group. Or worse, we avoid talking about issues – except in unreal clichés and instead focus on fun. Whilst I accept fun is a must, in our entertainment culture it would be foolish to think otherwise, it must not come at the price of failing to build identity, commitment to that identity, conviction on what it stands for, and confidence in it! I feel that youth, particularly from around fourteen years and onwards, could engage far more with activism – along Christian lines – than with continued storytelling and games and pizza nights! What about engaging them in social and political action; on matters of Christian concern?
In addition, I also think we need to accept and find ways to work with the realities of sexual energy. Perhaps consider ways to facilitate, at an appropriate legal age, Christian courting. Help Christians approach their emergent sexual feelings – rather than seeing those things as something to bury deep inside or hide away from our Christian circles, which often leads to living a double life and jettisoning our Christian faith. Frankly, the Christian community – regionally and nationally, need to take this more seriously. It’s too big of an issue to think your fellowship can deal with this alone – and if it were big enough to do so – you should be helping smaller Christian fellowships! This concern becomes more pertinent for Christians as they hit their 20s.
This is where the Bishops (and other absent leadership) are really important. Bishops and lead pastors of multi-site churches could be making a difference, especially if they have all their youth workers working together to support the Christian youth as a larger group. They can direct funds and resources, use their clout to get things done, and build bridges to other Christians in the local area, seeking to enlarge the Christian communities’ pool of youth and the support that flows to them. We can not keep doing what we are doing and think things will work out, because they are not. Simply doing the same thing isn’t going to make things better. We need to think outside of what is normal to us if we want to see changes for the better. This has to start with having the all-too-scarce commodities in our so-called leaders: leadership, vision, ambition, courage!
I want to end by saying, I am sure there are other factors to consider, other issues I have not touched on, and I am sure that this is neither a full diagnostic nor a full solution. However, I would ask you to consider, if you are a youth worker or a Bishop reading this, do my points have merit? Are they part of the picture that makes up the solution to the problem of why our youth are disappearing?