My friends at Fuller Youth Institute have been researching what makes faith stick as youth transition to adulthood. The study they did with 500 youth group graduates revealed three surprising and key findings. I wanted to focus on the first key finding.
“While churches across the U.S. have tended to allocate financial and personnel resources toward building strong and dynamic youth groups, teenagers also need to rub shoulders and build relationships with adults of all ages.”
Programs and staff are nice, but it’s really about relationships, relationships, relationships. If we as youth workers are not leveraging potential relational connections between adults in our church and young people we are missing the mark. I’m reminded of what John J. DiIulio, the first director of the White House Office of Faith & Community Based Initiatives under President Bush, said about preventing juvenile crime and substance abuse among teens:
“Strategically, the key to preventing youth crime and substance abuse among our country’s expanding juvenile population is to improve the real, live, day to day connections between responsible adults and young people – period… No policy, program or intervention that fails to build a meaningful connection between responsible adults and at-risk young people has worked or can.”
DiIulio was talking community-based programming, but do we really think that it is any different within the Church? Sure we have the Gospel, but look at what the Apostle Paul’s method with the church in Thesslonica. He wrote, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well,” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, NIV). He brought the Gospel, but didn’t shirk meeting relational needs among those in the church there.
Youth need be exposed to many different adults, period. The Search Institute with their 40 developmental assets note that one key asset for a youth to have is “other adult relationships” this is measured by a young person receiving support from three or more nonparent adults. If we’re not doing that in the church where is it going to be accomplished? Anecdotally I’ve noticed in my 20 years of youth ministry experience that the kids who tend to “stick” are the ones who are engaged throughout the life of the church, not just involved in the youth ministry. Why is that? I’m sure it’s not in small part due to rubbing shoulders and developing relationships with a variety of adults throughout the church.
If youth within the church need this how much more do you think kids on the outside do? Many kids that I know and serve through Serve Our Youth Network lack “significant other adult relationships.”
In fact many I work with don’t have any adult working with them who isn’t paid to do so. Think about that for a second. How would you feel if that were you? If the only way to get an adult to spend any significant time with you is for somebody to pay them – that would really stink wouldn’t it? That is the reality many adolescents face every day. If we in the church don’t spend time with them, who will? Most likely the answer is nobody positive.
The simple fact is that youth within the church and without need people like you to spend time with them in meaningful ways. What are you currently doing where you can include a kid in your life? If we prioritize we’ll likely find we have more time than we think. For the sake of the next generation and for the future of those who will come after this is a need we must not leave unmet. Even if you don’t feel like you will make any impact at all you don’t know what God may do with seeds that you plant.
It is never, ever a waste of time to love a kid.