The Secret to Engaging Young People in Congregational Life

Why do so many young people leave Christianity as soon as they leave home? There are numerous factors involved, but one of them is that young people do not see the need to be engaged with a Christian congregation. There is a huge difference between showing up to church services and actually engaging in the life of the congregation. And I believe there is a difference between casual conversations and the meaningful engagement that will encourage young people to seek out a congregation wherever they live as young adults.

If meaningful engagement with their congregation as children and teens can improve retention as young adults, how do we encourage them to engage that way – especially if their parents aren’t engaged in meaningful ways themselves?

While social type functions can encourage some more extroverted young people to engage – at least casually – the answer actually lies in two of the primary purposes God gives all Christians – serving others and faith sharing. Not just giving everyone a chore around the church building and having them invite their friends to church, but service and faith sharing in ways that God actually created them to do.

The church has missed the boat when it comes to gift discovery, development and use. It should begin in the toddler years and be revisited regularly as a child grows and matures. The focus also needs to shift from the spiritual gifts listed in Corinthians and focus on the more concrete talent type gifts that God gave and used in the building of the Tabernacle. As young people discover, develop and use those gifts approaching the age of accountability and after they become Christians, those spiritual gifts will be revealed naturally. Starting there, however, will only confuse them even more than it does adults (who often can’t even agree which ones are still given and what they actually are by definition).

Every child has at least one concrete gift to be discovered and developed. This includes children with serious special needs. Often, the person helping children with discovery needs to be creative. It may take some children time to experiment with multiple possible gifts before they can identify theirs. Other children seem to almost be born with a knowledge of at least one of their gifts. Several of our free ministry ebooks have lists of gifts that include things we may not normally consider as gifts, but which God can use to help you as you guide young people in gift discovery.

We need to help families find ways to assist their children in developing the gifts that are identified. Some development opportunities are obvious. Others may require creativity to develop. Some families may not be able to afford the things they need to help their children develop their gifts and will need financial assistance or having others with that gift mentor their child and share any needed supplies.

True meaningful engagement also requires that we restructure all of our service opportunities inside and outside the building. We must stop thinking of people as interchangeable warm bodies filling a role and place people where they are truly gifted. Everyone will be more content and perform their roles better. Our congregations will be more efficient and our ministries greatly enhanced. Young people will have natural mentors and their gifts will be used in meaningful service and faith sharing from very young ages.

Anything done to serve God inside or outside of the church building should be done with a mix of adults, children and teens. Young people should be engaged in service and faith sharing in some way every week, not just a couple of times a year. Their roles should increase in responsibility as they grow and mature. They should be considered a valuable part of the team, not a nuisance or an errand runner. Not only will this give their lives purpose and meaning, but they will begin to understand their role in God’s Kingdom. They will develop meaningful, spiritual relationships with other Christians as they serve side by side. They will understand the importance of those relationships as they are mentored, guided and supported by the other Christians in their congregation.

If we do our part well, they will seek out a congregation as young adults in a new community, because they understand on the deepest levels why it is important. It may not be the only answer to retaining young adults, but it is a crucial one.

Categories Elementary, Mentoring, Special Needs, Teens
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