There is a tendency today to criticize youth ministry. (“Youth ministry” refers to church programs offered to 6-12th grade students.) Some say it is unbiblical or that it segregates the family. Others claim that most students do not continue in their faith in college, and conclude that youth ministry is a failure.
It is true that some students “dropout” of the faith after graduating high school. Fuller Youth Institute recently conducted a three-year study following 500 seniors through their first three years of college. They discovered that almost half (40-50%) of them did not continue in their faith.
As a youth minister and Christian parent, that statistic is disheartening. But the good news is that the situation isn’t as bad as we thought. It is commonly said that 80% of students abandon their faith in college. But recent research slashes that figure in half.
Even so, how do we explain this dropout rate? Is it the church’s fault? Is youth ministry failing? I don’t think so. Here are a few reasons that seem more compelling:
Reason #1: Passive Parenting
Some claim that youth ministry is unbiblical because the Bible tells parents to raise their children in the faith. While their claim is objectionable, the reasoning behind it is not. The Bible clearly expects parents to disciple their children:
- “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
- “Fathers, bring your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Research continues to show that parents are the greatest influence on their children. This holds true in their relationship with God. When it comes to parents and the faith of their kids, one researcher concludes, “You get what you are.”
Youth ministry cannot compete with this sort of influence. If students discard their faith, what does this suggest about their parents’ faith?
Reason #2: Public Education
Most students attend public schools. While education is a blessing we should appreciate, we must also recognize the spiritual danger. Public education is becoming increasingly worldly. Subjects are often taught from an unbiblical perspective.
School is also becoming increasingly demanding. Not only do students attend classes for six hours per day; they spend hours at club meetings, practices, and doing homework. It could be argued that school influences them almost as much as their parents.
Youth ministry cannot compete with this sort of influence. If students discard their faith, what does this suggest about the worldview being ingrained in them by public education?
If you are a Christian parent or public educator, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not blaming you for the dropout rate among Christian teenagers. I’m just trying to defend youth ministry by showing that there are greater influences in students’ lives.
And if you are the parent of a student who has “lost their faith,” don’t despair! Wandering is a normal part of spiritual growth. Many teenagers question the faith in which they were raised. But the Bible reassures us, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Youth ministry isn’t a failure. The fact that over half of Christian students continue in their faith shows that it is a success! But even more, it shows that most Christian parents are making a genuine attempt to pass on their faith. Let us all use whatever influence we have on teenagers to lead them toward deeper faith in Jesus.
What factors contribute to a student’s decision to discard or continue in their faith? Leave your thoughts with a comment below!
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