Sadly, this result is no longer the exception – but the rule – of what we are producing in our churches. A majority of our tweens will move down this track, statistically speaking. The Holy Spirit is not bound by these statistics, but they are a measure of what is going on in the American church today.
What is a “tween?”
A tween is someone who is typically between the ages of 9 and 14. There are almost 21 million kids in the United States that fit that fit into that category. They have one foot in childhood, and one foot in teen years.
They are struggling with their identity. By the time they begin high school, they have developed the “mask” they will wear until graduation – the class clown, the jock, etc.
At church, many are too old for the children’s ministry, but too young for youth group. They get messages that say, “hang on, we’ll have something for you in a couple of years.”
We need to engage them now, because they are very tender for the Gospel at this age. Studies have shown that kids between the ages of 5 and 13 are more likely to come to Christ.
We have spent more money on youth ministry during the last 15 years than we have during the history of the American church. Unfortunately, we have the worst results. Depending on the source, it is recorded that Christian teens are leaving the faith at an alarming rate: 67-82% by the time they hit 18-20 years old.
How did we get here? How did we get the biggest buildings, spend the most money and loose an all-time record-high of young believers to the world?
Judges 2:10, one of the most alarming verses relevant to this generation, speaks to this problem:
“All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.”
How is it possible in the grand scheme of all things holy that a generation of young people would come up under Biblical teaching and examples and not know the work of the Lord?
We are raising a generation of lost students who don’t care about the truth of God because they don’t care about the people of God. They don’t want to hear what we are saying, because how we live speaks too loudly. We’ve got Christian students who are over-entertained and under-challenged. As teachers and mentors, we don’t expect what we should from them.
One morning, I was driving through west Texas and saw a group of teens running at 7 a.m. Why would they be motivated to show up that early to run? Probably because someone told them to be there and expected them to be there.
So, where are our expectations for students in the church?
The solution: make disciples
God has called us to make disciples. We should expect our students to become disciples.
The measure of every ministry initiative should be to make disciples. The reason we should be doing outreach is not to get decisions. The reason we should be doing youth ministry is not to keep kids awake during the service with flashy devices and cutting edge technology.
You might not have the biggest, most sophisticated youth ministry around. But when we stand at the judgment seat, God won’t ask us how many flat screens we had in our youth centers.
So, how do we make disciples?
Motivate your students
We must motivate our students by demonstrating a living relationship with Christ in our own lives. Our youth leaders and pastors must demonstrate this as well. A youth leader/pastor may be a dynamic teacher, but it is crucial that students sense that their leader has been with God by witnessing his or her life being lived right in front of them.
The world is not looking for a new definition of Christianity, but a real demonstration of it. If our students can’t find it in the church, where can they go? We must present Christ as Lord, not just Savior.
Equip your students
55% of Christian students would like to share the Gospel with their friends, but do not know how to share the gospel. They have a fear of not knowing what to say, and a fear of rejection.
But who better to reach tweens than other tweens?
Along with teaching them how effectively share their faith, we need to train students to take a stand as role models, since the world is inundating them with unholy ones. Don’t try to keep up with the world; go to the Word of God, which pierces the soul and spirit.
We must be anchored in the Word of God before we, ourselves, can equip our students to go and make disciples.
Chad Miller is the director of Dare to be a Daniel, a student disciple-making ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. This piece is an excerpt from his session at a recent Billy Graham School of Evangelism.
Find out how two teens are making a difference for the Gospel in their communities.
Want to challenge and equip the students at your church? Find out more about using the Dare to Be a Daniel curriculum. This summer, there may be a camp near you using it too. Look for one at the Dare to be a Daniel Web site.