Spiritual Apathy & Youth Ministry
"Trevor Michelson was simply stunned at the revelation. “I just don’t understand it. Almost every single time there was a rained-out game, or a break between school and club team seasons, we had Janie in church. It was at least once per quarter. And aside from the one tournament in 2011, we never missed an Easter. It was obviously a priority in our family—I just don’t get where her spiritual apathy is coming from.” On of my favorite new websites is Babylon Bee. This site posts daily articles similar to The Onion only the posts poke fun at the church with satire and ironically true "stories". Yesterday's post I think was their best story to date. I say this mostly because it was a story about teenager apathy towards the church and how sometimes we (parents, youth leaders, pastors, church leaders) don't understand the signals we are giving to our kids.
"Why are there no teenagers in Sunday School this week?"
"Why don't they ever show up to church?"
"This generation is going to hell in a hand basket!"
Here's the funny thing, in a lot of these cases, we've done a great disservice to the next generation of Christians. Yeah teenagers today are filled with apathy towards the church but for the most part that has been true of just about every generation of teenagers. In general, teenagers are apathetic towards EVERYTHING!
The Babylon Bee post makes this painfully clear:
"Local father Trevor Michelson, 48, and his wife Kerri, 45, are reeling after discovering that after 12 years of steadily taking their daughter Janie to church every Sunday they didn’t have a more pressing sporting commitment—which was at least once every three months—she no longer demonstrates the strong quarterly commitment to the faith they raised her with, now that she is college-aged."
A lot of the families I interact with at church who are facing the problem of an unengaged teenager or college student, the story is the same: Sunday mornings are optional (at best). That's not to say that soccer, baseball, swimming, underwater basketweaving, and SCUBA club aren't important. The criticism comes when outside of Sunday, especially if Sunday is off the table for a family, that church life is relegated to an optional activity.
The Stick Faith study proves this for us:
"The study found parents and other adults as the number one influencers of teenage religious faith and practice. The influence of parents and adults was found to be so strong that Smith and Denton refer to the common cultural assumption that a teenagers' peer group is more influential than that of adults in teenagers' lives as "badly misguided."
The study goes further, critiquing the importance of youth ministry programs:
"I have been a part of some incredible youth programs. These programs have been able to attract large numbers of students and lead many students to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. However, when I reflect back on the students who lacked strong parent support, our impact was not through our programs; it came through the ways we offered meaningful relationships with other adult believers that continue to be sustaining influences in their discipleship journeys to this day."
The way teenagers approach the church today, and later in life, has more to do with the way they see their parents engaging in the church. You can have the best youth ministry programs in the world but if parents are not engaged, there is a good chance students will lose interest or develop apathy later in life.
"The religion and spirituality of most teenagers actually strike us as very powerfully reflecting the contours, priorities, expectations, and structures of the larger adult world into which adolescents are being socialized... Teenagers pick up their religious cues from the surrounding adult culture."
This isn't to absolve youth ministry professionals and volunteers from responsibility. Instead, I would suggest youth ministry professionals and volunteers need to start partnering with families. Churches cannot do this on their own. They need to work with families to develop the understanding for why their teens might be apathetic towards their faith and begin building ministries that are designed for the whole family and not just teens.
Check out Babylon Bee and all their good stuff here.
For more on the reality of teen spirituality, check out Stick Faith's blog here.