USA Today published a short piece on how the days of overcrowded youth groups and church trips are over.
Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.
A few individuals guess why kids are ditching:
“Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” says Barna president David Kinnaman.
“I blame the parents,”who didn’t grow up in a church culture, says Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kan. … “Remember, 80% of kids don’t have cars. Their parents could be lazy or the opposite — overstressed and overcommitted. If parents don’t go to church, kids don’t, either.”
Don’t forget the overcommitted teens themselves, the recession and growing competition from summer mission trips, says Rick Gage of Go-Tell Youth Camps, based in Duluth, Ga.
But then this quote sneaks in at the very end without any explanation or curiosity from the authors:
“I started to question if it was something I always wanted to do or if I just went because my friends did,” says Atkeson, now 18. “It just wasn’t really something I wanted to continue to do. My beliefs changed. I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian anymore.”
This is where I think the article would get interesting! Why did they stop there? This may be the most important issue—beyond lazy parents and facebook.
There must be more to kids leaving Christianity other than “I’m not attending church” or “I’m not going to camps with my youth group.” Many Christians often say things like, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a mechanic.” If Christianity and faith is so much more than just attending services, then what’s causing this shift in teen commitments?
My “Youthgroupie” Days
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not anti-youth group. A lot of fun and character-building can happen in that kind of setting. I was a very active member of church youth groups from the ages of 10-18. My best friends came out of those groups, and I got the chance to do a bit of traveling (mission trips), go to a lot of fun events, concerts, and camps, and have a good time in a safe, parent-free environment. I lucked out, to be honest; I’ve heard some horror stories, but I thankfully survived just fine and had a good time in the process. Besides the religious training and evangelism that I could have done without, I consider it a great point in my development.
What if I hadn’t attended church or belonged to a youth group? Then I hopefully would have found another group of kids to hang out with and had other fun things to do.
So what are these straggling kids spending their time doing? My cynical mind assumes they’re just being silly, social butterflies who have sex too early, are glued to their phones, and try out every illegal substance they can get their hands on. But then again, I don’t expect much from most teenagers. Just call me ageist.
I hope there are enough attractive alternatives to churches out there for teens. I can think of some awesome things I wish I had been doing outside of school: community theater, another choir or orchestra, volunteering, a sports team, gaming, taking more fun classes like photography or language, etc. But I’m an adult now, and those things may not have seemed so fun to me at the time.
The constructive fun can come in many forms—not just from churches. Let’s just hope kids find a great secular way of keeping out of trouble 😉