When I was a kid, I was a ministry All-Star. I was attended youth group and played basketball at the parish. Not only did I attend Sunday school, I started teaching in high school. I did everything the Church expected from me as a young person.
At least on paper.
On a deeper level, I struggled. Physically, I was present at activities and in the pews. Mentally, I was wracked by doubts.
Spiritually, I was consumed by temptations and a building sense of isolation.
And I wasn’t the only one.
As a 34-year-old, I often think about all the kids I grew up with: my Sunday school classmates and basketball teammates and friends from youth group. As adults, regretfully, many have little connection to Christ and His Church.
This is unfortunate. The Barna Group, for example, recently concluded that 60 percent of young American Christians (across all traditions) fall away from their church during and after their teenage years.
This is especially surprising given the sheer volume of ministry stuff available today. From books and retreats to podcasts and curricula, it seems that Church workers have no end of materials from which to choose. Yet, even as we have more and more ministry stuff to use, we seem to see less and less fruits from our ministry efforts.
Contemporary research is showing more and more of our young people are slipping further and further from the Church.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” you’ll remember the character of Brooks Hatlen. Brooks was an elderly inmate, who spent decades behind bars at Shawshank State Prison. When he was granted parole, rather than celebrate, Brooks pulled a knife on a close friend and threatened to kill him. When considering why Brooks would respond to good news in such a surprising way Red, a wise inmate, offered a simple answer: Brooks was institutionalized. Brooks had spent so many decades in prison that he could no longer imagine life outside the penitentiary’s walls.
After all, what’s a prisoner without a prison?
In a similar way, we must be careful that our ministry programs and activities do not leave our youth without creating a deeper connection with Christ and His Church. In this manner, our young people will avoid falling away from the Church despite years of active participation in their youth group.
We, as members of Christ’s body, are not here to raise a new generation of Goyans. We’re not here to create a new generation of so-called “active” youth group participants. Instead, we seek to unite our youth with Christ.
And Christians are not simply born; they are made. Christians cannot simply be informed; rather, they must be formed.
A new generation of Christians cannot simply be lectured into faith, nor will weekly participation in activities necessarily translate into a connection with Christ. As teachers and Church workers and parents, we must raise a generation of Christians with the eyes to see Christ at work in their lives and with hearts calibrated to seek the Lord’s Kingdom and His righteousness.
To do that, we cannot simply rely on a resource or program to magically organize our kids into saints. If we want our young people to love Christ, we must first love Him ourselves as teachers, parents, youth workers, and faithful. Because we cannot give something if we do not have it ourselves.