Hemorrhaging Faith - Part 2
The previous issue of The Sun introduced an extensive study on the reasons for the significant exodus from the church by young people and young adults. While this problem isn't new, what has changed is that the primary age of “dropping out” has moved into the high school years, with the university and college years coming a close second.
In the words of one of the participants of the study: “young people are searching for a life-giving way of doing church.” How do we “do church” in fulfillment of the vows we make as parents and community when we baptize or dedicate our children? How do we best “do church” encouraging our teens and young people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ?
Hope Fellowship is a church very much experiencing God’s blessing! Pastor Peter is an incredible blessing as a leader and as a role model. Among his gifts are to be accepting, non judgmental, an excellent listener and he presents the gospel in vibrant and challenging ways. He doesn't shy away from tough questions or present syrupy answers. Our ministry leaders and volunteers do wonderful work in support of ministry and programs. The experience of church community is very positive. We have much to be grateful for and much on which we can continue to build. A few things to consider:
Transitions are stressful times in the lives of young people. Elementary school to high school, high school to university – these are often the drop out points in church involvement. New challenges emerge and new peer groups come into play. Young people need the support of mentors and of programs as transitions are navigated. While certain programs for teens and young adults work for both males and females, some programs focused on the differences between them are also helpful in building connections. Parents need to strongly support and encourage involvement.
Authenticity as parents and as church community is vital. Our children and young people watch us closely as we live out our faith, conduct our personal devotions, struggle with and honour their difficult questions – in short as we strive to live Christ-like lives. Fundamental to being authentic is Christ’s invitation to “take up our cross and follow Him.” The times of greatest growth with our young people are often the time when we together face our struggles and challenges. Programs and mentors with young people need to dig into deep and difficult questions of faith and concretely live out our faith mission. And, all that we do must come with encouragement and challenge, acceptance and more encouragement: all in the context of a trusting community.
The study includes many more suggestions, such as the importance of mission trips in deepening faith. Teens who drop out of church life become part of the statistical group that is much less likely to sustain faith. Teen and young adult ministries are vital to the faith development of young people. Church budgets and allocation of personnel must reflect that. While not directly referenced in the study, Christian schooling provides a great opportunity for the growth and development of a Christian worldview in the context of a vibrant school community.
Parenting is a challenging responsibility. It comes with joy and fulfillment as well as disappointment. It pokes at our insecurities. There are no guarantees – it’s complex and ultimately each person makes his or her own faith and life decisions. As parents and as a community, we take our hope and our comfort in the faithfulness of our God who calls us to be faithful to His purposes for us. Let’s continue to build on the blessing of our church community. Let’s celebrate our young people by providing inclusive, life giving ways of being church. For further reading or dialogue: Hemorrhaging Faith and Redeemer University College panel discussion April 22.
- Fred S.