Despite the onslaught of challenges and cultural confusion faced by many of America's youth, God is at work, says the Christian group Youth for Christ, which saw more than 7,000 children and teens decide to follow Jesus Christ this year, doubling last year's numbers.
Youth for Christ, which has 130 chapters nationwide, reports 7,323 individuals gave their lives to Christ this year, according to K-Love Christian media.
“Twice as many kids made first-time decisions to follow Jesus when compared to last year,” YFC President and CEO Jake Bland was quoted as saying. “It is clear that God’s Spirit is moving through leaders everywhere across the nation, and that the Gospel is as needed and as effective as ever, especially as the unfailing love of Christ meets today’s changing youth landscape.”
Bland added that “there is a growing need among young people,” referring to the U.S. Surgeon General’s recent statement that youth mental health is in a state of emergency.
Two decades ago, “the biggest issue for teens was drunk driving or teen pregnancy,” but today, “those kinds of issues have dropped dramatically, and youth mental health needs are rapidly rising,” Bland said.
Sharing statistics, he lamented that one-third of youth report having no trusted adult in their lives and more than half are not connected to a church.
“In America, we’re locking up more kids per capita than any other developed nation in the world,” he continued. “The reality is our kids in this nation are at a vulnerable tipping point — a pivotal moment. There’s a whole generation that could slip through the cracks.
“Despite the challenges kids face and a culture that confuses, it’s never been clearer that God is already uncovering His story of hope among this next generation, and I believe He’s preparing to do even more.”
YFC has been one of the most recognizable youth ministries in the world since 1944 when the Rev. Billy Graham served as YFC’s first full-time staff member.
Last April, Bland told The Christian Post that young people are craving the kind of hope found only in Jesus Christ.
“Teens today are facing crises like never before, but it’s often in the darkness that light shines the brightest,” he told CP. “To enter into a disciple-making relationship where you're introducing a kid to an unconditional love that maybe they've never even considered, showing them the goodness and love modeled in Jesus — there's a lot of hope in that.”
Polling over the years has found that large percentages of students who attend church while growing up in their parents' homes leave the church once they go to college, and many don’t return.
To meet the ever-changing needs of youth people, YFC has pivoted its ministry strategy in recent years. While the group used to focus on large rallies, it now places an emphasis on relationship-building and takes a holistic approach to discipleship, from feeding hungry children to lending a listening ear to those struggling.
In a video presentation in September, David Kinnaman, who leads Barna Group, the prominent faith-based polling firm founded by Evangelical pollster George Barna, stressed that children’s ministries “should shift from making consumers of Christian content to participants in Gospel mission.”
He said he considered it a “major challenge for adult discipleship,” explaining that “we really condition people to just be consumers of Christian content” like podcasts, books, radio, music and preaching.
“None of that is bad in and of itself, but it has to go deeper,” he said. “We're seeing in our research across a wide range of different studies that people want to be participants in the Gospel mission.
“That is, in fact, the kind of full life in Christ, the kind of life on mission that all of us aspire to,” he added. “It's not easy. People sometimes would rather hang back and just sit and soak, but I believe that God is calling us now more than ever to equip people to live lives on mission.”