Several years ago when I was still a bivocational pastor our small church decided to bring on a bivocational youth minister to see if we could not develop a youth group in our church. We found a young man who was energetic and had a great personality. He planned a lot of activities that appealed to our young people who soon were inviting their friends. Within a few months we had a good number of young people attending our church.
After about a year he announced he was resigning to accept a similar position in a larger church in a nearby county. As he was making his announcement a young girl walked out of the sanctuary and never returned. Within a few weeks nearly all of the new youth he had brought in had left as well. We realized that he was good at reaching young people with the activities he planned and the various ways he entertained them, but there was no discipleship to anything he was doing. When the entertainment disappeared so did the young people.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. I recently read that 40 percent of Christian high school students end all church involvement once they graduate from high school. For a long time, we blamed liberal colleges for causing our young people to question and abandon their faith, but the reality is that the seeds of this abandonment is planted long before they leave for college. No doubt, the assault on Christian teachings and values that occurs on many campuses takes its toll, but our churches are also not without blame. The fact is that many of our churches do a very poor job of helping young people develop a Christian worldview that is informed by biblical truth and understanding.
I recently began reading William Lane Craig's book On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Craig is one of the premier Christian apologists and philosophers of our day. His is one of the podcasts I download to my I-Pod to listen to when driving. Early in the book he says that the church is failing young people by not training them in how to defend the truths of Christianity. As he writes, "We've got to train our kids for war. How dare we send them unarmed into an intellectual war zone?"
As I read that I remembered the youth groups we tried to develop earlier in my ministry. We rented a nearby armory for the young people to play basketball on Sunday afternoons. We had pizza parties and lock-ins and other activities our young people could invite their friends to attend. We did a number of things to grow our youth group; we just didn't do much to grow our youth. There was nothing wrong with any of the activities we were doing, but those activities were not enough. Along with the activities we should have been helping them find a faith of their own that they could defend. As we tried to teach them what to believe we should have also been teaching them why they should believe it and why that belief was superior to other beliefs. But we didn't. It is one of the disappointments of my pastoral ministry.
What is happening in your church's youth group?