As we contemplate the Sabbath School lesson on discipling Children, I am reminded of a blog post someone shared with me on Facebook a while back, that really hit home with me and my personal observations. The article, “Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith” mentions that many (not all) church youth groups help teens connect with each other, but fail to connect teens with the church or God. So, when they outgrow the youth group, they leave the church and God, which they never were connected to anyway.
Some youth leaders have even confessed to me that they had no relationship with Jesus themselves, and wanted me to teach the kids how to have the assurance of salvation, since that was something the youth leaders confessed they have not even experienced themselves. The youth leaders connected with the kids, but were not connected to Jesus, therefore it ended there, instead of going on to becoming disciples for Jesus. What we need are youth leaders who can connect with kids and connect with Jesus.
If not designed and executed properly youth groups can actually shoot themselves in the foot. Some youth groups isolate kids from the church family instead of integrating them into the church. For example, I once had a 20 year old lady tell me, “I don’t want to go to that church meeting tonight because it will all just be grownups and I want to hang out with kids my age.” The youth group failed this young woman, because at age 20 she still saw herself as a kid instead of identifying herself with the grownups which she is now a part of! She is now too old for the youth group, but does not realize that she is now an adult. She is now on the outside as she is too old for the youth group, but never was connected to the church family, let alone God. And no, the solution is not a young adult group. I am not saying it is wrong to have one, I am just saying there is a problem when a 20-year old does not realize they are not a little kid anymore, and putting them in another bracket will not fix the problem. At age 12 Jesus did not become a youth or young adult. He became a man. The term teenager was not even recognized until the 19th century. There were no youth groups as anyone 12 or older was now a part of the regular church congregation.
I have served in smaller churches with no youth groups so to speak, and saw teens thriving in the church family. There was no segregation between young and old. In one church in West Texas, the bulletin editor was 13 years old, and was probably the most responsible bulletin editor I ever saw. She was home schooled, and if I did not have my sermon information called in before 1 pm Wednesday, she was calling me! She is now married with two children, in her early 30′s and still very active in her church family, and more importantly has an experience with God. She never made the transition from youth church to the “real” church, because she was brought up in the ”real” church from the git-go. Unlike the 20-year old woman I mentioned earlier, she sees herself as a grownup and has for a long time. She stopped seeing herself as a little kid, back when she was 13 putting the bulletin together every week.
Youth groups, like any other type of Church group, is purposeful only as it helps young people feel connected to Christ and a part of the entire church family, instead of just a part of a little group only connected with themselves.