- (Photo:Reuters/Andrea Hopkins)
Several youth pastors are weighing in on a popular blog post by Jon Nielson, a pastor at College Church in Wheaton, Ill., on the three characteristics of 20-somethings who remain in church.
Greg Stier, president of Dare 2 Share Ministries, a church-assisting ministry that trains teenagers and youth leaders in Denver, Colo.; as well as Sergio and Franchesca Chavez, youth pastors of Ministerio Mizpa, a bilingual Christian church in Alexandria, Va., agree with Nielson's three points.
Nielson explains in his blog that one of the motives of young adults staying in church is because they have converted, meaning their conversion was genuine, which in turn creates a sincere desire to seek a relationship with God. He also says they are equipped, not entertained. Instead of being catered to through activities and outings, he says youth who have been prepared to develop and lead their own ministries do not stray. He also believes being raised in a Christian home is another reason.
"An authentic, meaningful personal relationship with Jesus is an essential starting point for teenagers at every level of their spiritual life, including any expectation that they would stay engaged in a local church," Stier told The Christian Post on Monday, in agreement with Nielson.
When addressing the need to equip young adults with leadership skills for their ministry instead of extracurricular activities, Stier says there needs to be a change.
"Instead of entertainment-focused youth ministry, I believe we need a shift to evangelism-focused youth ministry," he said. "At Dare 2 Share Ministries, we've seen this kind of paradigm shift to a missional mindset that yielded dramatic results in youth groups where evangelism is seen as a catalyst for deeper discipleship."
Dare 2 Share Ministries hosts weekend evangelism training conferences for teenagers and youth leaders, allowing teens to share their faith, which puts their relationships on the line. According to Stier, this allows them to "count the cost" of what it means to be a fully surrendered follower of Jesus.
The Chavezes of Ministerio Mizpa also incorporate evangelism-focused work with their youth. Each month they hold youth services where each member is able to work in a desired aspect of facilitating the worship service, bringing forth their abilities as leaders while developing their own calling to ministry.
While many of the teens at Mizpa were raised in Protestant homes, a few come from other religions and some have never stepped foot in a church before becoming active members, much like Stier, who was not raised in a Christian home but rather in "a tough urban family filled with bodybuilding, tobacco chewing, beer drinking thugs."
Stier told CP that teens from broken, dysfunctional, and non-churched backgrounds like his, can also be used by God despite their history. Although he agrees parents play a critical role in their children's lives when raising them in Christianity, those young adults are not the only ones who necessarily stay in church.
"When someone encounters God in a radically transforming way, the Holy Spirit can use them to reach their friends who are also coming from a non-religious mindset," said Stier.
The Chavezes shared, "In the years we have working in youth ministry, we have found that many young people who were 'raised' in the Gospel (taken to church by their parents) attended ultra conservative churches, and, as a consequence, grew cold towards the church because it was a place where church leaders abused their power or had distorted interpretations of the Bible."
"It wasn't until someone invested time in building a relationship with them that they let their guards down. It's love that pulled them back to church and keeps them there," the pastor couple noted.
Besides agreeing on the reasons why youth stay in church, the youth pastors also saw common reasons why young people leave the church.
"I believe the primary reason youths leave the church is because they see it as irrelevant to their real lives. What better way to change that perspective than to give them a mission critical role on the frontlines of reaching their generation for Christ?" asked Stier.
And the Chavezes offered, "We have found that if youths leave the church after a conversion experience, then the church failed in providing accountability and helping the individual build sound relationships. If we aren't helping them reach their purpose, we aren't giving them a good enough reason to stay."