90% of your students are going to walk away from Christianity and the Church after High School?
There has been a lot written lately about what is going on with our students and why are they leaving the church in record numbers after they graduate from college. It seems to me that this is a problem that has been around forever, or at least since I graduated from high school. (Back when Pearl Jam was King!)
What would it look like if we quit wringing our hands about this awful statistic and accepted this as reality.
Everything I have read says that part of the adolescent journey is separating their identity from their family and faith of origin and develop an independent identity. This process of individuation is understanding who they are, where they belong, and if they matter. And these questions can not be done under the thumb of their parents, or their parent's youth pastor.
So, If 70% to 90% of my students are going to push back from the faith of their childhood during late adolescence, then what is my response going to be?
It seems like blaming the church, youth ministry, the culture, whatever doesn't move this conversation forward. Maybe there needs to be a different framing question to move this conversation forward. Instead of asking, "Why are so many students leaving the church?" Maybe a better question is, "Why are so few students returning to the church after they become adults?"
If it is a known fact that so many of the students who wander through the doors of my student ministry are going to bail on the church and their faith for part of their adolescent development, then I think my job is to create a ministry that leaves these students with a picture of the church and faith that is worthwhile to come back to when they are ready to be adults.
The question that has been shaping my ministry over the past few years has not been how to make sure kids don't bail, but rather, are we painting a picture of the christian faith that is worthy of adulthood. I think the story of the prodigal son is a great starting point for figuring out how to give our students space to rebel and space to return.
May we have the heart of the prodigal's father
With all my heart, I want to model the heart of the father who loves his students, who longs to do life alongside his students, who will make space for students to bail, who will wait with anticipation on the edge of the property for them to return, and who will welcome them back with open arms and no judgement.
Our students deserve a picture of mature Christian faith that is compelling and complex enough to make it worthwhile for them to someday return to when they are done rebelling and pushing away from their childhood identity. We can not make our faith smaller and easier to swallow as we lock down our students in fear of rebellion. Rather we love them extravagantly and give them space to walk their path, the one that Jesus has gone before them as the author, pioneer, and perfecter of their faith!
How would your youth ministry look if you asked a different question? What would it look like if you were less concerned about them wandering away, and more about making the christian faith a viable option in adulthood?
May we continue to have the heart of the father as we watch with broken-hearts our students wander away, and ever hope for their return.