A recent study by the Barna Group found that nearly 60 percent of young people leave the church either permanently or for extended periods of time after age 15.
A 2006 Barna study (http://tinyurl.com/3ao3q7p) found that 61 percent of young adults involved in church as teenagers no longer attend church, read the Bible or spend time in prayer.
Brain Upshaw, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) church ministry team leader, and Steve Wright, pastor of Family Discipleship at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, believe there is a way to reverse the trends.
During a breakout session Nov. 8 at the BSC annual meeting they shared how the church and parents can partner together to make fruitful disciples of the next generation.
Upshaw and Wright said the root of the problem is that many parents and churches fail to embrace the biblical mandate that requires the participation of both the faith community and parents in the discipleship of children.
Steve Wright, pastor of Family Discipleship at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh
In recent decades too much responsibility has been placed on the church.
“We have unintentionally communicated to parents that if you will bring your children to church we will disciple them and give them back to you as informed disciples,” Upshaw said.
Wright suggested the next generation will be reached if parents and churches each do their part.
He told parents to share with their children the glorious truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to follow the example of how families in the Bible lived on mission for God.
“In scripture, family would be engaged in the mission of God whereby eternity would be weighed in the balance,” he said.
For example, parents can model missional living by devoting family time to studying God’s Word, praying with their children for the lost people in their neighborhoods, and by sharing their testimony with their children.
In doing so, parents will teach their children how to live boldly for Jesus Christ.
Wright said that churches using the attraction model for youth ministry need to rethink this strategy. The attraction model calls for the youth pastor to build the youth group around numerous fun activities and to organize exciting outreach events in an effort to get young people involved in church.
During the past three or four decades, the attraction model has been a mainstay of youth ministry in many churches.
According to Wright, the problem is that the attraction model can send the wrong message to children because it often appeals to the flesh rather than placing an emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Appeals to the flesh set kids up for disaster, especially when they go off to college,” Wright said. “If there is any hope of reaching the next generation, they must know and understand the gospel. Only that message will endure [for] eternity.”
In addition, Wright told the audience that young adults are leaving the church in part because too many of them have been involved in youth groups that are segregated from the rest of the faith community. As a result, many teenagers do not have a basic understanding of the church’s role in the life of a believer and as the bride of Christ.
“Our kids graduate from those types of youth groups and they go off to college having never been incorporated into the life of the church,” Wright said.
“The last place they want to be on Sunday morning is in a boring, dull church.”
Wright said the solution to reclaiming the next generation for Jesus Christ is to approach youth and children’s ministry from a biblical perspective. “The church and parents are not barriers. They are part of the God-given solution.”
To learn more about how churches and family can partner together, listen to the Church and Family Connect Podcast. Visit ncbaptist.org; click Resources and under Audio, choose “NC Church & Family Podcast.”