Being a teenager is hard. I mean, it can be really, really hard. In the rush of all the physiological, emotional, and social changes going on around them, it is a daunting task to attempt to fit in with a certain group. Sometimes its just easier to hang out with people who won’t judge you in any way.
This is one reason for they party scene is always so popular: instant acceptance.
Most of the time, human beings gravitate toward a social circle that has the path of least resistance, and most of the time, this approach has devastating consequences: instead of choosing a circle of friends based on the content of their character, the decision is made on shared interests, who is cool, or who has the most “fun”.
Furthermore, with the rise of social media and less physical human interaction than a decade ago, it can be easier for a teenager to engage with their phone than with another human being.
I remember a few years ago a young man visited our youth group for the first time, and upon seeing that he knew no one in the room, immediately looked at his phone and made a bee-line for the bathroom, all in the span of the first 10 seconds of him entering the church, before we even had a chance to welcome him.
How do we make teenagers feel completely at ease and welcome? For one, our greeting has to be immediate, prayerful, warm, authentic, and led by teenagers AND adults. (a side note: the “Door Holders” at Passion City Church in Atlanta are the best I have ever seen at this).
Secondly, our welcome has to be more than words. A pastor may say “welcome” from the front of the congregation, but if the whole church doesn’t back it up, those words mean very little. Its one thing to say you’re welcoming, its quite another to actually do it.
Its much like a greenhouse: you cannot “make” things grow, but you can create an environment where growth occurs and is fostered. We cannot make anyone choose Christ, but we can be faithful in our preparation, our presentation, our welcome and trust God for the results.
As Henri Nouwen said, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Perhaps a ministry goal for us all is this: to be progressive in who we welcome (meaning: EVERYONE), and yet traditional in what we teach.
Ministries that are traditional in who they welcome (i.e. selective) and traditional in what they teach miss the heart of Jesus: too much truth and not enough grace. Likewise, churches that are progressive in who they welcome and progressive in what the teach also miss the heart of Jesus: too much grace and not enough truth.
I’ve noticed that the most effective and Christ-centered ministries in the world are progressive in who they welcome and unswervingly traditional/biblical in what they teach. They realize that this is how God loves us, and they respond in kind.
This balance of grace and truth is not an impossible balance to strike. With the Spirit’s help and guidance, may we all offer this Christ-like welcome in our ministries.
Clark Chilton is a student ministries youth worker in Clemmons, NC.