Ask Anything: Helping Teens Build a Strong Faith Foundation

This guest post is from Jake Brown, Discovery’s Youth Director.  Every week, Jake and his team serve over 100 teens so that teens may know the love of God in a life changing and foundational way.  Jake is well qualified to address this question and those who know him would echo my opinion that he is a sharp thinker with a huge pastoral heart for people.  

Q: Our young people/teens ~~ Many kids seem to fall away from God & the church when they go to college and are on their own.  What can be done to help them continue to live for Him in that time?  What can parents/community do?  What is Discovery doing?

A: This is an excellent question and one that is a huge struggle in the larger church across the US today. I don’t know that anyone has found the end all be all answer to this question, but there are some characteristics that seems to exist across the majority of Christian students in that young college age range. There are also some great books and blog posts on this topic that help to shed some light on what we as a church can be doing.

David Kinneman in his book “You Lost Me” conducted interviews with thousands of people who had identified as Christians in the 18-29 year old age group to find out if they were still walking in faith or had left a relationship with Christ behind.  The stats that he found were remarkable and terrifying. Kinneman’s research pointed to a ~70% church involvement in students age 13-17 compared to a ~40% church involvement in students age 18-29.   That 13-17 year old group is the most spiritually active age group in America with the 18-29 year old group being the least spiritually active.  We know that there is an issue.  What can be done about it?

Discovery’s plan during the 13 – 18 year old time frame is to prioritize a few important things based on the current generation that we’ll refer to as Millenials.  Millenials can be ascribed the phrase “belong before you believe” and as such our youth ministry strives to be a place that allows anyone to enter, encourages doubt and shares the truth about Christ.  Millenials, regardless of their spiritual state, are welcome and encouraged to dialogue about what they believe. Discovery also focuses on connecting Millenials to caring adults who can walk with them through times of both spiritual and emotional crisis and be that strong spiritual shoulder to lean on. These adults are tasked with partnering with parents so that there is a holistic and all encompassing approach to reaching these Millenials. Finally, Discovery focuses on creating environments that allow for what we’ll call a “conversion experience”.  This is an experience where someone comes to terms with the fact that there is a God who loves them and wants a relationship with them.  Many of our students growing up in the church have heard the stories for their entire lives, but for many there is a point where it goes from head knowledge to heart knowledge.  We seek to create environments that foster that transition to heart knowledge. We accomplish this through our Sunday and Mid-Week groups as well as retreats where students can get away and evaluate a relationship with God away from every day distractions.

This time for parents can be a tough one especially as students wrestle with their beliefs.  Students often ask the question “Should I believe what my parents believe or strike out on my own?” During this time parents are best served by asking questions and being okay with their students’ doubt. As students continue to work through what they believe having a strong parent who can help show them a path and ask tough questions is helpful. Parents can be finding ways to connect students to other caring adults so that students have a multitude of people to talk to about their questions. Finally, parents can be a calm presence during this hard time. If students see that parents are okay with where they are at then students are more likely to continue the dialogue.

This topic is by no means a closed discussion and is a big priority for Discovery and the larger church in general. We are always seeking to find how we can continue to move this generation closer to a relationship with Christ. Our prayer is that the students of this generation are able to take their faith to a new level with God.

Further Resources:

“You Lost Me” David Kinneman

http://www.churchleaders.com/youth/youth-leaders-articles/

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