Are Christian teens leaving the church because of unfulfilling youth groups?
Recent polls show Christian teenagers are turning away from the church – and some believe unfulfilling youth groups and parents' over-dependence on them may have something to do with it.
According to a survey sponsored by the US-based National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC), 55% of American Christians are concerned that modern youth ministry is shallow and too entertainment focused.
Over a third (37%) even agreed that youth group programmes are not actually biblical.
The study asked the views of 290,000 Christians over the course of five weeks and made the following findings:
1. Are church "youth group" programmes a biblical way to reach young people?
• 37% said "No"
• 36% said "Yes"
• 26% said "It's complicated."
2. Does modern youth ministry concern you?
• 14% said "Yes, we are losing our kids and it's clearly not working to train mature believers."
• 9% said "Yes, it's too shallow and entertainment focused."
• 55% said "Yes, because of both A and B."
• 22% said "No. It's not perfect, but it's striving to relevantly communicate the Gospel."
3. Does the Bible give clear direction and boundaries for discipling youth in the church?
• 15% said "No, The Bible gives us the Gospel, but how to reach youth with it is up to us."
• 28% said, "Yes, but there is a lot of flexibility since it doesn't say much."
• 57% said "Yes, the Bible gives us all the direction we need to disciple youth and constrains us from using worldly innovations."
NCFIC spokesman Adam McManus is not surprised by the results. He believes they are evidence of teenagers in the church being "focused on their peers, not their parents or their pastors".
"Today's church has created peer dependency," he said.
"It's a foreign sociology that leads to immaturity, a greater likelihood of sexual activity, drug experimentation, and a rejection of the authority of the Word of God."
Mr McManus fears the teachings in Scripture are not being taught accurately enough in youth groups and that they are not engaging youth as a result.
The answer, he argues, to the challenge of raising young Christians into committed adult believers lies less with youth groups and more with parents.
He points to the words spoken by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-7, which instructs Christians to impress God's commandments on their children on a daily basis.
It reads: "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."
Mr McManus went as far as to argue that the dependency on youth groups should be discarded entirely for the sake of young Christians and their spiritual transformation into adulthood.
"American Christians are finally waking up to the disconnect between the clear teaching in Scripture in favour of family-integration and the modern-day church's obsession with dividing the family at every turn.
"It's crippling the body of Christ. That's why it's time to return to the biblical paradigm and throw out the youth group structure entirely."
He added: "Frankly, I'm not as concerned about what happens in Sunday School in church, as I am with what happens in 'Monday School' and 'Tuesday School' at home with the family."
Youth group director at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham Alabama, Cameron Cole agrees, saying that parents should take more responsibility for the spiritual development of their children.
He said: "There is a propensity in our culture to outsource the development of our children. For intellectual development, we send them to school. For athletic development, we send them to Little League. And for spiritual formation, we send them to youth group.
"The church has done a poor job of communicating to the parents that they are the primary discipler of their children. Parents don't believe this, but the reality is that kids listen to their parents far more than they're going to listen to a youth minister."
The survey comes after the Barna research group found that 61% of people in their twenties who previously attended church are now spiritually disengaged.
It found that 59% of young Christians will disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after the age of 15.
Barna suggested six reasons why young Christians are leaving the church:
• "Stifling", "fear-based", risk-averse" Christianity in which "Christians demonise everything outside of the church" and "church is ignoring the problems of the real world".
• "Shallow", "boring" Christianity that is not relevant to young people's career or interests, and inadequate or irregular Bible teaching. A fifth of young adults said God was "missing" from their experience of church.
• Churches being antagonistic to science with Christians being "too confident they know all the answers".
• Church experiences related to sexuality being "simplistic" and "judgemental".
• They struggle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
• They don't feel like church allows them to express their doubts or ask their most pressing life questions openly
The NCFIC survey is still active online until November 8 at http://youthgroupsurvey.com