Is Church Important for Youth?

This question is somewhat ironic. It presents itself with the idea that our youth today are somehow viewed as a separate group of people in God’s eyes. If, however, people are created by God with equal worth, then the answer is: Church[1] is just as important for youth as it is for young adults as it is for the middle-aged and the senior citizen and as it is for children. Still, because of our current cultural context, this article will be directed at the importance of church for youth. Not only that, but we will discuss the importance of finding the right church for youth to be involved in and the importance of making church a family affair.

How are youth viewed in Scripture?

While there are verses in Scripture designated to youth, all of Scripture applies directly to every believer. Youth are viewed with equal value as the rest of the Church and young people in the world are viewed with equal value as both those younger and those older. God does not discriminate according to the age, nationality or gender of any one person (Gal. 3:28). Let us never forget that God used Moses at 80 years of age to free the Israelites from Egypt. He also used the teenage David to slay the Philistine giant that threatened His people. The reality is that God has a specific purposeful place in His kingdom for all of His people, and youth are never to be either glorified over everyone else or excluded from the rest of the church. Youth are an equal part of our identity as the Church and serve an equal role in the body of Christ.

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy, a young pastor: “Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12 HCSB). The instruction here is two-fold. Youth should strive to live in such a way and with such wisdom that others have no reason to look down on them. Older people in the church should also treat youth as though they matter in the grand scheme of things because they do and because God has created them with equal worth. We should not keep our youth from service, neither should we place them on a pedestal above the rest of the people. If you are a youth and you are reading this, you are a necessary part of the Church. Get involved!

Why do youth stay away from church?

According to a May 2014 article by Ed Stetzer, 70% of young adults drop out of church.[2] Furthermore, according to the same article, the dropout rate from ages 16-19 was 37%. These are only the numbers that are recorded and I have a feeling that they are the most conservative numbers. The reality is that church has become uninteresting and unengaging for young people. Why?

Kevin Harris states 6 reasons on Reasonable Faith with Dr. Craig.[3]

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
    1. When a youth ministry, even inadvertently, shelters youth from the world rather than preparing them to live in the world, that ministry becomes irrelevant and actually hurts students more than it helps them. We live in a culture where instead of walking through Scripture and making application to life, students go to church, play some games, are entertained and then are sent home with parents. In many churches, there is zero real, meaningful discipleship. We do not exist to overprotect our youth, we exist to prepare our students to live a Christlike life in a world riddled with the sin of humanity.
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
    1. When we treat our youth like children, they will remain children. When they are not experiencing maturity in the faith, we should expect them to leave. Young men and women are not children. They need more than pizza parties, games and a concert every week. They need meaningful study in the Word of God and many churches are not providing. They need opportunities to serve, but many churches keep them from serving because they don’t want them to get in the way. I know this because this was my perception of the church when I was a youth. If it were not for God’s conviction in my life, I would have left the church as well.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
    1. Not only this, but churches come across as antagonistic to learning in general. All I have to say here is: if God truly is the Creator (and He is), the Church has nothing to worry about. We should engage learning. If we oppose learning, then we implicitly oppose learning more about God. We become the worst type of hypocrite and students do notice, and they stay away.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
    1. This could also be said in respect to the consumption of alcohol. Sex is bad! Homosexuality is bad! Drinking is bad! Lust is bad! Drugs are bad! Music is bad! Culture is evil! With this sort of dogmatism in our churches, it is no surprise that students leave the faith. They are given rules instead of Christ. Churches preach ethics rather than the Gospel. What we fail to realize is that the Gospel is a basis for the morals of the church. When we only teach rules, students have no foundation upon which to place those rules. Churches are so guilty of teaching the “what” without the “why” when the why is much more important. If we only teach rules, students will be more attracted to secular humanism[4] than to the amazing truth of the Gospel. Don’t be dogmatic! We should preach the Gospel and teach students to think about right action according to the Gospel!
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
    1. This might be related to #4 above. We teach that Christ is the only way to God, but we do not teach why. It is true that Christianity presents a worldview where Christ is exclusively the way for anyone to be saved. There are not multiple roads to heaven and we cannot become gods by way of virtue or affiliation. Students want assurance that the Church is speaking the truth, and rightly so. Why is Christ the only way?
    2. A further note on exclusivity also relates to #4 above. We teach that Christianity exists in exclusivity from culture. We have created, by human hands, a church bubble and we exist almost wholly in that bubble. We do not engage the world. This is not only unattractive, but it is wrong. Have we forgotten the Great Commission? If so, please take a moment to read Matthew 28.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
    1. Our churches criticize atheists who do not believe in God. We criticize Jews who do not believe in Christ as the Messiah. We criticize Muslims who are only Muslim because they were brought up in a culture of Islam. We criticize the agnostic for questioning and we disown those around us who question God as the supreme authority. Have we forgotten that sin is a real power in the world, that there is an enemy who would see us all deny Christ, and that we were once without Christ? We should not be unfriendly toward those who doubt. Instead, we should encourage them, reason with them in love and serve them. Look at the life of Christ. Is this not what He did?

Dr. Craig’s response in the same article is chilling regarding the mentality of the Western Church, “I suspect that what he is talking about there is a failure to engage with the challenges to Christian belief that exist in our culture- a sort of ostrich mentality where you put your head in the sand and pretend that it is not really out there instead of engaging with it.”

In short, students are uninterested in church because the church has become an oversized ostrich, sticking its head in the ground and ignoring real needs so it can pretend everything is fine.

Should youth be in church?

The answer to this question is a resounding “YES.” No matter how bad the church gets, Christians have a responsibility not to forsake assembling together so that all may be spurred on to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). It becomes difficult to complain about the church when you are not there to help fix it. While the church should never succumb to the downfalls listed above, it remains true that students should not use those as excuses for their absence. How will the church get better if no one who cares is there to make it better? Do not forsake assembling together! It seems not only important that youth be in church, but that they make church a priority and a commitment. While this is true, some discernment may be necessary to find the right church.

What church should youth (and everyone else) look for?

Here are the obvious things to look for in a church:

  1. A good church preaches the Bible.
    1. I mean the whole Bible and not only select passages. The church does not benefit when the sermon always sounds the same, when messages are not convicting, when messages are only convicting, when popular passages are exclusively taught or ignored. The Bible must be taught first and foremost and it must be applied in a real and relevant way.
  2. A good church is concerned with doing things well, but not particularly with entertaining people.
    1. Worship (praise) should be done well, but it should be done well with the proper motivation (that motivation is not entertainment).
  3. A good church is concerned with seeking God, seeking people, serving each other, serving the lost, discipling one another and sharing the Gospel with its community. Seek, serve, share.
    1. Without the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, a church willingly lives in blatant disobedience to God and fails to be the Church.

Similarly a good youth ministry will resemble these things. Keep in mind that having a youth ministry, though it may help, is not necessary to the operation of a good church. Furthermore, if a youth ministry does not reflect the characteristics of a good church, it will hurt the church and will not help it.

Statement on family

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:1-4 ESV).

Scripture places the responsibility of discipleship primarily in the family. When our churches do not reflect this, they do not reflect Scripture. Thus, the most successful church according to Scripture is a church that is made up not of individuals, but of families. The most successful church, when this is applied, is not the biggest church or the church with the most income; it is the church that places the primary mode of discipleship in the home and supplements that in the church. I say this understanding that making church a family affair is not possible for some. Because of sin, we have broken homes, we have unbelievers in our households, we have parents who are not serious about the faith and we have children who intentionally stay away from church or cause disruptions. If it is possible for us, then, we should make church a family affair. If it is not possible, we commit to not forsake the assembly.

For those youth reading this, go to church with your families so long as they are in a good church. Don’t go somewhere else because there are games or because there is good music or because there is pizza and prizes. You need something deeper, and I have a feeling you want something deeper.

For parents of youth reading this, be sure your family is in a good church. Every church has its problems, but a good church will preach the Bible, seek to do things well, and will actively pursue both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Encourage your children to go to church with you. If you’re not yet involved in a good church, I look forward to seeing you!

[1] Throughout this article, “church” refers to the meeting together of believers for the sake of worshipping God together.

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[4] Secular humanism is the glorification of the human being, with regard in particular to the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God. Morals are based on feelings or interpretations of nature rather than on truth.

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