This has been a long time coming. I have mulled over for months now. Typed and retyped. Several others have read it in order to give me guidance and direction. It wasn’t easy. Namely because I am calling out myself first and foremost with every tap of the keyboard. Know that I don’t take the subject, nor written content lightly. If you feel like I’m pointing a finger at you, know that I’m pointing 3 back at me.
We might as well face it. It’s no secret that the church’s retention rate of graduating High school seniors is plummeting. It’s a well documented fact. Josh Evans contends in his article How to Keep Students in Church After Graduation, that somewhere around 80% or more of students who grow up in the church leave within two years of graduating high school. The stats vary up or down depending on who put them together, but it’s fairly plain to see it’s simply a mass exodus.
There are any number of articles (Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church; The Church Failed Millennials, Just Not In the Way You Think It Did; Ten Reasons Kids Leave the Church; Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church; Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church: A Response to Rachel Held Evans; 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church; and the list could go on – just google it…everyone’s got an opinion) giving any number of reasons as to why students are leaving, or in some cases staying, and their antidote on how we have or should go about keeping them. Everyone has the answer.
Over the past year I have spent countless hours reading the articles and the statistics, contemplating what I have done in the past and what I’m doing in the future, talking with peers and mentors, praying, studying, planning, lying awake at night, etcetera, simply looking for an answer. What I do impacts the lives of students, obviously, for better or for worse.
Unfortunately, a lot of what I have read is just a band-aid on a hemorrhage. All in all, I can confidently say that no one has a nicely packaged, quaint, concise answer to the dilemma – But that’s what happens when you work with people. It’s not easy, nor simple. There are just too many variables, too many things to distract teenagers attention away from their purpose and drag them down the road of self-love and fulfillment; only to leave them empty in the end. Sometimes I wonder if the Amish are on to something. Maybe we should just join them.
What I do know is that it’s a lifestyle and it begins at home. I can’t expect my son to know and act a certain way if I don’t model that behavior for him. I can’t expect Him to read his Bible every day if at some point he doesn’t see me doing it. If he sees me skip church to go to a basketball game, sleep in, or just chat with someone while I send him on to Bible study, what’s he going to do when he can make his own decisions? My actions just spoke louder than anything I could ever tell him. By skipping worship or Bible study I’m saying “church” is something I do when I don’t have anything better to do. Kids model the behaviors they see. My son mimics my behaviors, good or bad – words, actions, vice’s, etc. Your child is a mini-you and they will act like you. (As a side note, that said, you, as a parent, can only do so much. At some point you no longer make their decisions for them. They make their own choices and they have to live with the consequences of those decisions.)
As for my job…Ephesians 4:12 states “…equip the saints for the work of the ministry…” It’s not my job to raise students spiritually. Biblically speaking, that’s the job of the parents. My job is to equip them to do ministry. It is meant to be in addition to the teaching that happens at home. How crazy/arrogant would it be for me to think that I could meet the spiritual needs of each and every student in a large group setting in only a couple hours, at max, a week? Let’s get real, I have trouble enough keeping up with my four.
And while we’re being honest, how are you preparing your child spiritually? What are you doing to help them grow in their relationship with Christ? Are you equipping your kids for success in the world? What about their relationship with the Savior? Are you equipping them for success by Raising Kids the World Will Hate? It’s a tough job. There are so many thing vying for their time as well as yours. But I can only do so much in the allotted, minimal amount of time I have with them each week.
No matter how you cut it, parenting isn’t easy; it has its ups and downs, and some kids are easier than others. At the same time – although contrary to the popular belief that I shoot free throws, plan trips, and take naps on my couch all day, my job isn’t a walk in the park. We need each other. Somebody smart once said “Doing student ministry without parents is like driving a car without an engine.” The family was designed to be the foundational spiritual unit. Together we can teach the what it means to be like Christ.
So, what’s the answer to helping kids grow in relationship with the Father and ultimately keeping them involved in that relationship and church in college and beyond? Invest in them at home. Redeem the time you do have. Don’t squander it away. Invest in them now.