This is a guest post by James Blewett, the owner and operator of youth-sermons.com and author of the book Can I Get Baptized in Fruit Punch.
60-80% of Christian teenagers are abandoning their faith after graduation before they finish their Freshman year of college.
We have all heard this statistic in many different ways and forms with a different percentage attached each time. One thing we can all agree on, though, this cannot be acceptable.
Youth Pastors bear the majority of the responsibility to try and repair this statistic, but there are things that Senior Pastors can do to help as well, and it can be as simple as adding a few sentences to your sermon each week.
Photo Credit: Demi-Brooke cc
One of the reasons this trend of faith abandonment has become such an epidemic is that the majority of churches in our country don’t do a very good job preparing youth for life as a member of the main congregation. They have a lot of fun during their youth group days and get to know their youth pastor and youth volunteers real well, but they never quite fit into to the obligatory “Big Church” setting every Sunday morning.
Some Senior Pastors think that they have to wear jeans and a t-shirt to preach and hire a rock band in order to connect teenagers to the main congregation. If that is your personality then go for it, but if it is not, then Senior Pastors will come off as pretty lame for trying to be something they are not. But there are a few small things that can begin to help.
Tell personal stories
Teenagers want to connect to the leader on a personal level. There is often a disconnect between the person on stage and the real person of the Senior Pastor. Try and tell a personal story each week that doesn’t make you look good, but that makes you look real.
The youth in your congregation can see right through phony people, but they respect people who are willing to be vulnerable and admit to struggles. So instead of reading an article on how Stonewall Jackson had courage in the civil war, tell of how you had to have courage when your kid needed surgery, when your mom was sick, or when you got conned into riding a roller coaster.
Apply the sermon to the youth
In your sermon preparation each week, ask yourself one question before you shut your Bible and email your notes to your secretary: How does this apply to the youth? Answer the question in one sentence, then face the part of your sanctuary that has the most teenagers, look them in the eye, and tell them why they should be interested in the book of Philemon, and what kind of forgiveness they should show to their friends or parents when they have wronged them. They will have this sentence to answer the question: So what was the sermon about today?
Encourage a youth as an illustration
Can you imagine the impact that you could make as a Senior Pastor if you stopped in the middle of your sermon and said, “By the way, I heard this week that Vanessa just started a Bible study on her school campus. I am so proud of her.” Or, “I was reading the paper this week and saw that Josh got selected to the All County Soccer team. Congratulations!”
This doesn’t have to be every week, and is actually a lot more impactful if it’s not every week, but be aware of some of the successes of your teenagers and take ten seconds to acknowledge them. And think of it this way, you could be encouraging a future deacon and that can go a long way.
Get to know the youth on a personal level
This is the biggest one of all. Nobody is sure where the stat came from, but we all seem to think that a healthy church in a typical community should be made up of 10% youth. So if you average 400 on Sunday morning, 40 of those people will probably be teenagers.
10% is way too high of a number to outsource and ignore. Go to a youth event, guest speak on Wednesday night when the Youth Pastor is on vacation, take some youth out to lunch, go to youth camp. These are things that a Senior Pastor can do to connect to 10% of his congregation. If you don’t think that your Youth Pastor would like for you to do that, it’s okay, your his boss.
One of the main things a Senior Pastor can do to stop this alarming trend of faith abandonment in graduating youth is to invest in their lives. A few minutes of effort could really have a lasting impact.
QUESTION: What does your church do to help engage teenagers in “Big Church.”