Most in the youth ministry world are aware of both research and anecdotes suggesting millennials are leaving the church.
As a youth worker, this breaks my heart. I wholeheartedly believe you cannot be a solo Christian. The church is vital to our faith, to the formation of meaningful community, and for the betterment of our world. In order for students to learn this, we’ve got to regularly talk with them about why the church matters.
To do this, recently, I canceled our regular weekly youth gathering and instead, sent teens into the homes of the saints of our congregation. In preparation for this, I asked my colleagues for the names of people who they thought would be open to such an experience. I then reached out to these individuals, explained what we were doing and why, and asked if they’d be willing to participate. I made it clear they didn’t need to worry about refreshments (in fact, our students brought them baked goods) or even chairs, that our teens were adaptable and could sit on the floor if need-be. I then worked with my student leaders to write interview questions. Writing interview questions created excitement for these interviews among my student leaders. Their excitement was contagious.
During our hour-long visits with the saints, teens asked them questions about their childhood, marriage, education, work, faith, and involvement in church. Connecting with saints on their turf allowed us to interview people who were no longer able to drive at night. It also increased their comfort level, making it easier for them to share their stories with our teens. As they shared, teens heard stories about how our church has changed from those who’ve been part of it since it’s inception. They also heard about the connection between faith and the church from people far wiser than they.
When asked to describe her faith, one woman said, “I cannot imagine my life without it.” She then went on to describe how, during a family tragedy, our church rallied around her, offering her both physical and prayer support. This experience became this woman’s most powerful encounter with Christ ever.
At the end of the night, my students asked this woman her hope for the future of our church. She shared how she hoped they’d remain involved in and committed to it.
These were powerful words from a woman who’s own story showcased why such involvement and commitment to the church matters.
So often, today’s teens are frustrated by the hypocrisy they sense within the church; By their suspicion that the church’s main goal is it’s own survival. Yet, through these interviews with the saints, my teens saw a very different side of the church: It’s beauty.
They saw how life-giving and how life-saving the church can be. They left knowing the church matters – not just hypothetically, but because they’d heard it first-hand in the stories of the saints who’d been shaped by it their entire lives.
Jen Bradbury has been in youth ministry for 11 years. She’s the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, The Christian Century, and Immerse. She blogs at ymjen.com