For families with teenagers, time is a valuable commodity. Between the rat race of school, sports, work, social lives, and many other activities vying for time, why should you, as a parent, encourage your student to be active in your church’s youth group?
Youth group, student ministry, the young folks – whatever your church calls it – has received some criticism over recent years. Student ministry has its flaws, believe me; I can give you a list. But, student ministry also provides many positives for a teenager’s life, faith, and even for their future.
Here are my top 5 reasons why your teenager needs a youth group:
Teenagers need to know the “why.”
The President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, Thom Rainer, once said, “If you can’t explain to a [young person] why you do what you do in your church, they’ll reject everything you do.” His point was directly tied to Millennials, but the same will likely be true of the generation coming up behind them. If we don’t contextualize matters of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, the Bible, the cross, the resurrection, the Church, the great commission, and other essential matters of the faith into their world, many young people cease to understand why they should even bother. Effective student ministry should provide the answers to the “why’s” of the Christian faith in a teenager’s context.
Teenagers need someone to look up to.
Teenagers become less concrete and more abstract thinkers as they progress through adolescence. During this time, their brains quickly gravitate toward some non-parental person that seems to have a better grip on the world around them that they can mimic. During the teenage years, parents are replaced by teachers, coaches, other teenagers, college students, celebrities, athletes, and a myriad of others as the primary role models that a teenager follows.
But, is that always what’s best for them? If you could choose who these role models were, wouldn’t you rather have an adult who loves Jesus and is actively following Jesus to come alongside your teenager? Small group leaders, volunteers, and (yes, even lowly) youth pastors can be one of those people a teenager looks to for guidance during this time. This is not one person's job. This is the job of the church. They say it takes a village to raise a child; well it takes one to mentor a teenager as well.
Teenagers need community.
“Who all is going?” – every teenager ever.
Teenagers feel a deep sense of belonging. To many of them, where they belong is less important than that they belong. What better place for a teenager to find a place to belong than their church? The church should aim to provide a place where teenagers can learn to love and support one another, share their lives, and grow up together as they are taught what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Teenagers need a greater purpose.
Teenagers long to be part of something bigger than them. Sports, bands, and clubs have capitalized on this longing for decades. If we can effectively communicate and contextualize their greater purpose as a follower of Christ – to love and be loved by their Creator and to carry out the Great Commission – we can tap into something deep within their souls.
I think too many youth groups try to throw the biggest party for their students. As teenagers get older, and especially out of high school, they find out the world throws bigger and, let’s say, “more fun” parties. So why should we compete with the world? Give them something the world cannot – a greater purpose for their soul, and guidance in how to live for that purpose.
Teenagers need a safe place to be vulnerable.
If we’re being honest, don’t we all need a safe place to be vulnerable? Don’t we all long for the chance to be ourselves? Don’t we all desire to be loved and accepted as we are? Don't we all want to be enough? Few places like that exist in this world, and if we can culivate our student ministries to be places where teens can ask honest questions, share genuine struggles, and deal with real problems, we invite them to a place that many of us as adults also crave – a place where we are loved like Jesus.
Student ministry is not perfect. But, if structured properly, it can be a place that helps teenagers become what every Christian parent desires – mature followers of Jesus Christ.
"Then, we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ." Ephesians 4:14-15 (CSB)
Editor's Note: This article first appeared on his blog, HeathMiller.org.