We’re losing the next generation of students.
Yet, we’re not losing them in the way we might think.
We’re not losing them to evil, malicious, atheist professors in college.
We’re not losing them to the temptations of this broken world we find ourselves in today.
We’re not losing them to some craze where they indulge in the world once they get their college independence.
No, we’re losing them much earlier than that.
We’re losing them while they are students in our churches, even as early as elementary school.
Right now, I function as the family discipleship pastor at my church in Vernon. My primary role is in youth ministry, but my role includes children and young families.
Here’s what I truly believe. If we as the church were perfectly doing what we’re called to do, my job wouldn’t exist. It just wouldn’t.
Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there is no aspect of the Christian life that I do perfectly. But if we were to get there as a church family in the area of discipleship, we wouldn’t need me.
Before I get to my reasons as to why we’re losing the next generation while they are sitting in our churches as kids and teens, let me start with the great things I’ve seen in my specific context.
We have children’s ministry leaders right now who have served faithfully, often unthanked, for decades. They have given of their time and effort.
Last Summer, our church’s generosity was astounding. Via a luncheon and auction, we raised enough money to send every single student to camp free of charge.
We have youth ministry leaders who give not only their Wednesday nights, but their Sunday mornings to our youth group. I can’t do what I do in ministry without people like them.
But let’s get to where there’s still work for all of us to do.
Here’s why we as the church in America are losing them.
We segregate them from the rest of the church
Most churches have the following:
Youth Sunday School and Children’s Church. Youth group and children’s programming on Wednesdays, distinct from the rest of the church. Homegroups for youth only on Sunday nights. All of these generally take place apart from the rest of the church.
Here’s what this not so subtly communicates to our students and children.
You’re not part of us.
Now, I know that’s nobody’s intent by any means. But it’s what happens subconsciously.
It’s what happened to me for a season.
When I went to college at OBU, I struggled for all four years to get involved in a local church. It’s one of my biggest regrets. I was a member at one, sure. But I never went all in. Instead, I’d sneak in and sneak out of the service, never really getting involved.
I believe many of our children and students who end up leaving a local church in college do so because they didn’t feel part of a local church as a child or teen.
In Scripture, I’ve never seen children and young adults separate from the body. Instead, I see mothers investing in sons, children being brought to Jesus, and teenagers being called out and used by Jesus. The only reason children’s and youth ministries exist is because we made church aboutfun and entertainment, comfort and preferences.
We condemn them more than we invest in them
Ouch. This one hurts me. Even as the family pastor here in Vernon, I fall into this one. I don’t believe I’m alone in that.
When I peruse social media, I see Christians condemning and demeaning the next generation. Regularly. Are there things about the next generation’s behavior that isn’t in line with Christ? Absolutely. Can the same be said for any and all of us? Absolutely, times a thousand.
I find myself treating kids and students as problems to be fixed or maintained rather than young men and women to be discipled. I’m thankful for a wife who calls me out when needed in this way.
Our kids and students know what you say about them and what you think about them. They see you complaining about this generation in comparison to the good ol’ days, and they see you refusing to invest in them.
They leave their church family because that’s not how families are supposed to act.
We teach them fluff and stuff
Felt boards and dating tips. That’s probably that which comes to mind the quickest when you think about children and student ministry respectively.
Too often, our churches are teaching our kids and teens the most frivolous and flippant things. Too often, our churches are not giving the next generation the meat of the Bible. This too is a new method. The catechisms of the early church were rigorously taught to young Christians.
The next generation is leaving the church because the fluff and stuff doesn’t mean anything to them. They aren’t prepared to know the story of the Bible. They aren’t prepared to love God and love others.
We promise too much
In an effort to avoid teaching fluff and stuff, we can unfortunately go the other direction and promise them too much.
Here’s what I mean.
We promise students changed lives and a changed world.
At first glance, this seems just fine, right?
But here’s how we teach these things incorrectly.
We teach them that they can see their lives transformed in a moment, and we teach them that they, not Jesus, can change the world.
Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is an arduously long process. It’s never quick. Yes, our standing before God is changed in an instant when we accept the sacrifice of Christ. Our temptations and sin struggles persist, however. Students go to college or grow up and give up on faith because they were told they could overcome all the sin in their life in just a few moments.
You won’t change the world.
I won’t change the world.
Jesus changed the world, and only He continues to change the world.
This is what I teach the students at our church. God uses ordinary people in ordinary jobs in ordinary places through ordinary churches to make disciples.
Students are leaving the church in college or when they grow up because they were told they were world-changers, and yet they really aren’t.
If the next generation isn’t discipled, our churches will close their doors.
We aren’t losing the next generation in college.
We’re losing them now.
Let’s do something about it.
In His Name,