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Does your church like teenagers?
Most would answer a hearty and enthusiastic, “Of course!” Why else are you buying all that pizza, offering all those programs, and doing everything you can to teach and care for your teens? You want to keep them in church.
But lurking in many hearts is a different feeling, something churches would never say out loud that simmers silent and deadly below the surface: They actually don’t like young people.
Three Ways to Guarantee Teens Leave the Church
For them, teens are too messy, too moody, too dramatic, too distracting, too obsessive, and too immature. The problems, sins, and struggles teens deal with are just too much. These churches’ greatest fear isn’t losing their teens; it’s keeping them. Deep down they desperately want to know, “How do I get young people out of the church?”
Fortunately for those churches, I have three sure-fire ways to guarantee young people leave – and don’t come back.
1. Teach them spiritual milk, not meat.
If you want to push young people away, don’t go deep with them. Avoid theology. Stay with the superficial, the fluffy, and the familiar. Teach them the story of David and Goliath—but make the point about facing our personal giants, instead of God working for His glory. Preach moralism, niceness, and how to be a good citizen, with a Jesus twist. Then, when life gets difficult and they experience trials, their skin-deep spirituality will fail them, and they will leave the church.
Teach them what to believe, but not why they believe it. Tell them God exists, that he’s in control of everything, that Jesus rose from the dead, but give them no foundation for those truths. Skirt Scripture, discourage questions and healthy discussion, and exalt feelings. Then, when teens enter the real world and encounter challenges to the gospel, their shaky faith will crumble and they will leave the church.
Whatever you do, don’t teach them about sin. But if you must, keep to the big ones – murder, adultery, grand theft auto. Teens’ self-esteem is fragile, so do all you can to preserve it. Avoid talking about lust, loving their enemies, showing humility on social media, modesty, or other touchy teen subjects. Then, when they’re faced with the temptation to be exactly like the world, they’ll naturally give in – and leave the church.
2. Train them to treat church like consumers.
If you want to guarantee young people leave your church, make them selfish. Set them up for disappointment and disbelief by creating a church experience that bubbles them in comfort and self-focus. Teach them that the church exists for their convenience, social life, every want and fancy, and to fix their personal problems. Shift the attention from God’s glory to theirs. Teach worship – but not of God, of them. Then, when they’re confronted with the reality that church is not ultimately about them, they’ll feel disillusioned and will leave the church.
Make the gospel “cool.” Do whatever you have to do to make it relevant to young people. Cater to culture’s cues, and tailor your teaching to pop culture. Use shows, movies, and music that are “in” right now to make your points. Then, when teens realize that Christianity, like their phones and the Top 40, is just a passing fad, they will leave the church.
Teach them to expect perks and benefits from Christianity, not suffering. Teach them they’ll be healthy, wealthy, and live a life untouched by trouble or inconvenience. Lead them to believe the church is no different than their school or social clubs – that they should go for what they can get out of it. Then, as soon as it doesn’t feed their personal agendas, they’ll leave the church.
3. Segregate them from other age groups as much as possible.
Disconnecting teens from the greater community of the church is a classic (and fairly simple) tactic to push them away. After all, if they never felt like part of the family, it’s easy for them to leave. Keep them in youth group, youth Sunday school, sit them together in the worship service, and then give them some sort of class or club to join during the sermon. Discourage their helping with the children’s ministry, advise against serving senior adults, and frown upon fellowship as a family.
Don’t let them learn from other age groups. Keep adults’ struggles, stories, and fears far away from teenagers. Make teens feel as isolated as possible. Don’t let them plug into the lives of those who are different from them. Keep them away from the faithful saints who will inspire them. Then, when teens are given the chance to experience authentic community somewhere else, they will leave the church.
How to Keep Teens in Church
It’s really as easy as that. With just three simple strategies, you can guarantee teens leave your church. If they leave, your church won’t be as messy. It won’t be as crazy, as moody, or as distracting.
It also won’t be as biblical.
Take away teens from your church, and take away its life and growth. If you want to see your community wither, harden, and eventually die, push teens away.
Of course, the opposite is true as well. If you want your church to thrive and grow, welcome teens. Love them, in spite of their mess—and you may just find they aren’t so messy after all. Give them grace. Disciple them. Befriend them. Ground them in Scripture, giving them a foundation for their faith. Teach them that church is about God’s glory. Instill in them a love for humble worship. Don’t shy away from the hard realities of the gospel. Integrate them into the multigenerational community of the church. Teach them about sin and grace and repentance. And show them how to follow Jesus as a selfless servant.
Then, teens won’t just stay in the church; they’ll be the church. And the church will be better for it.