Time magazine’s current issue takes note of the trend in youth ministry away from entertainment and towards the serious study of theology among Christian youth groups. Interesting that this has made TIME Magazine, at a time when some within mainline evangelicalism still don’t seem to understand that spending hours and hours of time in goofy, juvenile activities doesn’t provide middle and high school students with the framework needed to work through the tough issues of life. Not that youth ministry should be boring–it shouldn’t–but neither should it be silly and shallow.
Write the authors at TIME:
Youth ministers have been on a long and frustrating quest of their own over the past two decades or so. Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early ’90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all. In a national survey recently released by Barna Group, a polling firm that tracks religious trends, only 33% of kids 13 to 18 responded that they attend a youth-group event regularly–a 3% drop since 1998. And while nearly 75% pray each week, that number has declined 9%.
Even more worrisome to many youth ministers was the Barna survey finding that 61% of the adults polled who are now in their 20s said they had participated in church activities as teens but no longer do. Some experts point out that young people typically drift from organized religion in early adulthood, but others say the high attrition is a sign that churches need to change the way they try to engage the next generation of the faithful. "This dip should serve as an exhortation for everyone to be about the business of discipleship, missions and a higher calling than popcorn-and-peanuts youth culture," says Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Scholars who have looked at young Christians say their spiritual drift is in part the result of a lack of knowledge about their faith. "The vast majority of teens who call themselves Christians haven’t been well educated in religious doctrine and therefore don’t really know what they believe," says Christian Smith, a University of Notre Dame sociologist and the author of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. "With all the competing demands on their time, religion becomes a low priority, and so they practice their faith in shallow ways."
As the exodus has increased, churches are trying to reverse the flow by focusing less on amusement and more on Scripture.