Will we engage and mobilize the next generation?
by Connie Faber
Many of our churches will be missing something the Sunday after Easter. Our high school students and their sponsors will be in Denver, Colo., attending Named 2015, the quadrennial National Youth Conference (NYC).
In this issue’s Conference Call, Joanna Chapa, a member of the Named 2015 planning team, says her experience at Estes 2003 as a high school student was a “monumental marker.” Like Joanna, many of us can testify to the ways NYC has impacted and changed our lives, whether we attended as teenagers, sponsors or program participants. Join me in praying that many young people will leave Named 2015 with a deeper understanding of what it means to called a child of God and to serve him by serving others.
I also challenge us to pray for our youth beyond Named 2015: to ask that over the next 10 years the Mennonite Brethren Church will find favor with these young people and that they will choose to be actively involved in USMB congregations. It is one thing to have our teens absent from church because they are attending a youth group event and quite another to discover that they are among those who drop out of church when they leave high school.
Engaging and mobilizing this next generation is one of the greatest challenges for the church in the 21st century, says Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and the Conection 2014 keynote speaker. Lifeway Research data show that 70 percent of young adults who attended church regularly for at least one year while in high school drop out. Stetzer’s research also indicates that, “our teenagers aren't primarily leaving because they have significant disagreements with their theological upbringing or out of some sense of rebellion. For the most part, they simply lose track of the church and stop seeing it as important to their life.”
Many of us are praying for young adults who have drifted from church. We are proud of their professional accomplishments and the ways in which they care for the hurting. But we wish they’d see the value of the local church and life in a community of faith. As we wonder how best to influence our young adults, Stetzer’s research offers insights into the role of parents and local congregations.
Parents: Stetzer’s research offers additional confirmation that strong marriages benefit children. He found that young adults are more likely to attend church and return to church if they grew up in a home with two parents who remain married to one another and who both attend church and actively practice their faith.
Churches: Churches can turn dropouts into disciples, says Stetzer, when adults in a congregation are willing to connect with teens and young adults, when the pastor offers relevant, biblical teaching and when teens and young adults are encouraged to let their faith guide decisions in everyday life. Because of their concern for the marginalized, the hurting and the outcasts, young adults will be drawn to churches in which they can help reach those in need.
Stetzer’s suggestions sound simple, but we know they are not. Putting them into practice is the real challenge. May God help us be churches that nurture our teens, connecting their faith with ordinary life and mobilizing them to serve.