There is a well-known statistic that tells us that 80% of youth stop attending church after they graduate high school. Let me bring that closer to home, that means, in a church youth group with 20 kids, over 15 will no longer go to church after they graduate. In a home, 3 out of 4 of our kids statistically will forsake fellowship by the time they’re 18. The cry of all of our hearts should be “why”?
I have heard many theories of why they leave: new temptations in college, no mom and dad bubble to be a governor for their sinful nature, exposure to new faiths and skeptical questions, not being properly discipled at home, going to youth group, not going to youth group, not sufficiently understanding creationism, etc. While these are real issues, I don’t believe any of them are the reason they quit church.
I spoke with a youth pastor friend who spent half of his life serving youth full-time, and with the firsthand empirical evidence of years of leading, watching, mentoring, equipping, and counseling teenagers he said that he can confidently say that most of them were not regenerated. They didn’t read the Bible regularly, they didn’t share their faith, many were sexually active, many experimented with drugs, they didn’t fight for godly fellowship, they were not givers, dated unbelievers, and the list of goat-like qualities goes on. They simply hadn’t been translated from darkness to light. They didn’t drift away from God after high school; they weren’t with God during high school. They drifted away from “church.”
The real question should be, how can we help our kids clearly understand the gospel — the power of God to salvation, and then equip them to live as believers. Many of our youth genuinely don’t understand the gospel, the whole counsel of God, and we often just presume that they do. And many churches and homes have not taught our teens that an essential, fundamental part of being a disciple is sharing the gospel, and then equipped them for that adventurous task.
This is what I am arguing for in this series of articles entitled: The Conversion of Youth. And this is what I hope to encourage you: the reader, parents, brothers or sisters, Sunday-School teachers, and friends of young people, to study and prayerfully consider. I urge you (especially youth) to read Matthew 19:13-30. In 19:13-15, Jesus commands that little children have free an unhindered access to Jesus (then, and now). In 19:16-22 we read about a very promising person. He was young (v. 20, 22), moral (v. 20), spiritually earnest (v. 17, 20), and wealthy (v. 22). Surely, he must be a “Christian!” But Jesus set before him the clinching claims of the Gospel and when he heard those, he went away grieving, because he was one who owned much property (v. 22). There are many promising and talented youth, and yet they need conversion more than anything. What appear to be signs of righteousness and attachment to God or Christ are sometimes false indicators. God alone knows the hearts of men and young people. And in 19:23-30 Jesus lays out the requirements and rewards of discipleship – that never change, in any culture.
Probably the most important passage in this regard is 1 John 2:13, 14 where John speaks about the spiritual lives of children, fathers, and young men. This is a beautiful passage and picture of different age groups in the church and levels of maturity in the Christian life. But it also clearly addresses different age groups. John sometimes refers to all of the Christians as little children (1 Jn. 2:1, 28, 3:7, 18, 4:4, 5:21). But here he distinguishes different age-groups and levels. It seems to me that he begins addressing the church under the picture of little children as in the rest of this letter, and then separates out into older men and younger men: literally, and spiritually. He is commending the men of the church for their faithful attachment and perseverance to Christ from the beginning (2:14). He is commending the youth for their spiritual victories in temptation (2:13, 14), which is the result of the word of God abiding in them – converted, strong, men and youth!
There have been many noble and helpful Christian initiatives to reach youth and interest them in the Gospel: Youth for Christ, Youth With a Mission (YWAM), Youth Groups, Youth Retreats, etc. These may have their place, but nothing takes the place of Youth Evangelism – that is, sitting down with a young person, befriending a youth, with the purpose of helping that young person see Christ in all His beauty, simplicity, and sufficiency as the One who saves from sin and establishes in righteousness, and embodying the Gospel ourselves as proof and living commendation of what we say to them.
In future posts we will explore what Christian parents should do as they raise their children in the home and involve them in the church.