When teens have never experienced worship, prayer, discipleship, or fellowship within the congregation at large, why would we expect them to suddenly be pursuing full involvement in the church when they graduate? It’s so natural to focus a youth ministry on the teenagers. Instead, youth ministry must always remember its context (the church) and build a bridge into the homes where the youth live (the family). When a teenager has a sound faith, firmly rooted in both the church and the home, he or she will be exponentially more likely to continue in the faith long after high school. Youth ministry is temporary because adolescence is temporary. Once students graduate from high school they are no longer “ours” (as if we owned them to begin with). Teenagers are entrusted to our care for a few short years. Youth ministry is an important arm of the church where both parents and congregation have the opportunity to co-evangelize and co-disciple, with the desire that God would draw students to himself. Bridges are important. You can’t get over a river without one, but no one builds his home on a bridge. If a youth ministry isn’t consistently seeking to nourish a student’s faith to grow deep roots in the local church as well as at home, then the student’s faith will naturally develop around the youth ministry.
The older I get, the more concerned I have become about a growing tendency of “church flight” when our youth reach adulthood. For some young adults, this is demonstrated by their physical absence from any regular attendance in a local church. However, for many others, it is much more subtle. It is the absence of being an integral part of the ongoing community life and ministry of the local church. Last week The Gospel Coalition had an interesting post regarding this issue—Mike McGarry’s “Youth Ministry Feeds the Church and the Family”. Here is an excerpt that really got my attention: