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Where Have All the Students Gone?

Over the past few months of working in youth ministry at Grace, I have noticed some things. As I sit in front of the congregation Sunday after Sunday and look out on all the faces, I’ve noticed that there are not a huge amount of high school students in worship. I am pleased and encouraged by the students I do see, but I have to wonder where the others have gone.

The second thing I notice is that there is a huge fallout of students between the Confirmation event and involvement in youth group in 10th grade. Our students attend catechism faithfully for three years during middle school, they work with a mentor during the Own Your Faith year, get Confirmed, and then…they disappear.

I don’t think Grace is unique in this phenomenon. Across the country young people are increasingly disengaging with the institutional church. As the Pastor of Youth Ministries I have to ask myself, “Why?”

Why do students not feel a strong desire to attend regular worship and/or youth group meetings? Is it because they are just too busy? Do they not care? Is it not modeled at home? Or, does the church just not meet the real needs of the student?

If we are all honest, the answer is all of the above. Between excessive homework, two or three extracurricular activities, a job, and friends from school, students barely have time to breath. Church becomes one more menu item on an already crowded schedule. Let’s face it. If the church doesn’t meet a felt need, then what’s the motivation to come?

I recently read a blog post titled “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church…You won’t believe this!” The article states

“Millennials are in a different social situation. They don’t need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced. You don’t need to go to church to stay connected or in touch. You have an iPhone.”

I would love to have some honest dialogue around this topic with both students and parents.  I invite you to engage in the comment thread to see if we can gain insight into how best serve our youth at Grace.

  • Kristin Shields February 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I aggree that it is not just one thing inparticular, but a combination of the above. It’s very frustrating for the parents also because I want my teenagers to have the same awesome experience I had with youth group. And of course the harder I try to get them to go, the more they turn the other way.

  • Chrissy February 16, 2011 at 2:58 am

    It is so many different things…I feel that it all starts from the examples that are set…it starts from home. Is faith a part of the family dynamics? Are youth dropped off for Sunday school and youth events and being told (often by actions and not by words) that they must attend or are families attending church together? Is faith being displayed at home by parents and family members (praying, reading scripture, and living Christian lives away from church)?
    If attending church is a ‘have’ to versus a ‘want’ to, then confirmation may equate to FREEDOM from having to wake up early every week and sitting through church and doing churchy stuff once or twice a week.
    If families are not involved and active in their own faith (even if it simply means attending worship weekly with their children and showing an interest in what it is that their children are learning or activities that they are participating in), I think it is a HUGE challenge to encourage youth to continue to attend church and to grow in their faith journeys on their own.
    There is so much crammed into life – jobs, extracurricular events, friends, families, school, concerts, events, etc. – church is often a second thought – something that will happen if time can be made.
    I think the key is educating parents on how much of an important role they play in their children’s faith and futures. Churches can arrange all sorts of events and clubs and fun things to do – but without the support of families – the youth will not come –

    Then again, these are just my thoughts…

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