One of my pet peeves at church is the way we adults treat young people. We’re always telling them they’re a part of our church family and that we love them. Then, in a thousand little ways, we tell them they really don’t matter. Need an example? At my particular church, when we were planning the new facility (which we’re now in), there was a dedicated youth room. Then, thanks to the financial meltdown, we had to scale back our original plans. Guess what got left out? That’s right, the youth room. Now, it wasn’t the only thing that was eliminated and there are plans to come back later and build that wing. But, all the kids knew was that their area wasn’t getting built. And, here’s the kicker: nobody bothered to come to them and talk about it. Another? Some of the parents asked us to change the meeting time for MYF so the kids could be home for the Sunday evening meal and we hammered a compromise that fit everyone. We thought. The time change was nixed by the music director because it would interfere with choir practice. See what I mean? Little things to us, but after a while they pile up. And, my church isn’t the only one making these mistakes. An article in the Associated Baptist Press says that evangelicals are doing a better job at keeping their youth in the faith than mainline churches. They put more effort and money into than we do. That’s just sad.
According to Mark Chaves, the two groups have different priorities when it comes to youth ministry. In churches with 50 or more youth, evangelical churches are much more likely to have a full-time youth director than mainline churches. 59% of evangelical churches compared with only about a third of mainline churches. I can see that. In my church, we have a Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, but he’s hardly full-time. The man gets 12 hours to run a youth group, monitor and teach Sunday School, set up a program to serve college-age adults, set up a young adult program and assist in worship on Sunday morning. 12 whole hours…, wow. And, people are wondering why these things are struggling to get off the ground.
In truth, it’s not just young people who get short shrift. If you’re not the traditional nuclear family, you’re pretty much invisible. Some churches have singles groups, some even have ministries dedicated to serving singles. But, as a single dad, I’ve never felt all the way “in”. If you’re single and get invited to anything, it’s usually an afterthought. And, when you do go to the get-togethers, everything’s always set up for couples and you feel like you’re making everyone else as uncomfortable as you are by being there. Young seekers have the same problem. Especially when they’re into the “alternative” side of life. Tattoos, dress and grooming that are less than traditional don’t get quite the same welcome as the young family coming back because they want their children to grow up in the church like they did. And, that is to our shame.
Like the article mentioned above said, our priorities are in the wrong place. Not long back, I looked at the assignments for our Evangelism committee. They were all things like greeters and ushers; it was all focused inside. I got news for you, friends. That’s not evangelism. Evangelism is getting out among the people. And, if you ain’t going out there, they ain’t coming in here. Of course, they have an answer for that: a sign. Um, I believe that great, big cross on the front of the building is a pretty good sign of what we are. If we get out and work a little, they might just get interested enough to come see what’s going on inside the building, sign or no sign.
I said in a preceding paragraph, we’re all about being a good place for those young, returning families. That’s where almost all our effort goes. But, guess what? We’re going to get them, almost without trying. All that effort to bring in folks that are going to come anyway? Why don’t direct some of that to groups that are looking for a place to find God, like young people who may not fit the traditional mold? One of the ways to effect that would be to have a full-time youth and young adult minister. The world is changing, folks. And, we’ve got to change with it if we want to stay in business.