I recently had the privilege to attend a conference with about 200 other youth workers from around the United States, and some amazing youth ministry legends who led us through workshops and phenomenal insight into current youth culture. One specific message shook me to my core and got me thinking about my own churches future and the future of our students. Chap Clark has been working on his upcoming book “The Adoptive Church” and what it means to do youth ministry when kids are so hungry but so distracted.
Three major crises have been emerging for a while in youth ministry but becoming more prominent than ever:
- Students Are Leaving
- Rise of the “Nones”
- Students Are Hurting
Students are Leaving
If you have been in ministry long enough you have seen this happen. Students graduate from school, are heading off to college, and you never hear from them again. Clark and the research have note that the major times students are walking away are 8th grade, 10th grade, and right after high school. Many of them will come back but many will never look back either.
Rise of the “Nones”
Nones refer to the people who on surveys mark no affiliation to a specific religion or no religion in general. Research says that 30% of people under 30 claim to be “none” when it comes to religion. According to Barna, teens 13-18 years old are twice as likely as adults to say they are atheist (13% vs. 6%). One of the biggest barriers to a non-christians faith is the belief that a good God would allow the amount of evil and suffering being seen in the world.
Students are Hurting
If you know of Chap Clark, there is a high chance it’s cause you’ve read Hurt or Hurt 2.0. Kids and students are being told to be better, to do better, accomplish more, stand out, but with little support than ever before. Too often students are hearing “We love you, but you better win, score the goal, run faster.” Students have so many expectations put on them that the weight is overbearing. Approximately 1 in 3 students will experience some form of diagnosable anxiety but only 20% will ask or recieve help. Students are tired and want to just be loved for who they are not what they do.
As the church, we need to recognize that students are longing to be included, to be empowered, and nurtured more than ever before. Students desire to be included, it’s in their core development to ask the question “do you like me? What’s my purpose? Where do I belong?” They want to feel empowered. In a culture that tells students they are no longer a child but not quite an adult, students are lost in transition and need to be called out on their leadership abilities and handed keys. More than ever, we need to remind students constantly that God loves them, and we love them, right where they are.
We need to remember that every single one of us was adopted into the kingdom of God. Not one of us is above the other. There is a whole-lot that the 12 year old boy in middle school can teach the 67 year old man and vice-versa. We are co-mentors in the kingdom because we are all siblings. We have all been adopted into the Kingdom.
Imagine what could happen if the graduated senior didn’t see the church as a place they went on Sundays or during the week but it was the place their family gathered. Imagine what could happen if the incoming 6th grader knew that no matter what changes the school year brings, they have an entire church cheering them on and coming alongside of them to affirm their journey, and mobilize their potential.
Michelle Rompel is the Middle School Director at Central Peninsula Church in Foster City, CA. She is currently working on her Masters in Developmental Psychology from Azusa Pacific University and hopes to bridge the gap of development and youth ministry. In her downtime you can usually find her at a coffee shop or an arcade dominating at pinball. Some of Michelle’s highest accomplishments have been catching 23 gummy bears in her mouth in a row, being a dancing Chick-Fil-A cow, and sticking with the Oakland Athletics through all these years.