Over the years I’ve heard many reasons from parents excusing their children from active involvement in youth group. Here are the most common reasons given and a brief reply to each of them.
1. My child is too busy with other activities (school, sports, etc.)
I simply do not understand Christian parents who expect and want their kids to have a dynamic, flourishing faith, and yet don’t move heaven and earth to get them connected to both a youth group and local church. No teenager can thrive in their faith without these two support mechanisms. I’m not saying a strong youth group and church community is all they need, but what I am saying that you can have everything else you think your teen needs, but without these two things, don’t expect to have a spiritually healthy and mature teen. Maybe there are teens out there who defy this claim, but honestly, I can’t think of one from my own pastoral experience. As a parent, youth group and church involvement should be a non-negotiable part of your teen’s life, and that means they take priority over homework (do it the night before), sports, or any other extra-curricular commitments. Don’t be the parent who is soft on these two commitments while pushing their kid in schooling, sports, etc. In general, what you sow into determines what you reap; if you want to reap a teenager who has a genuine, gospel-centered faith, don’t expect that to happen if you’re ok with their commitment to youth group/church being casual and half-hearted.
2. My child says the group is boring
Is this a statement about the youth ministry or about your child’s spiritual interest? Many of the same students will say the Bible is boring. Most youth groups work hard to create environments that are rich with meaningful interaction. That being said, groups like ours want to be unfront and admit that we are not fixated on making “fun” our highest goal. A good youth group will want to help coach students to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength before anything else. But let’s be honest and admit that some (many?) students do not want this; they simply want the group to be a fun distraction within their week. If your child is in such a place, it’s even more important for them to get and stay connected to a youth group, because genuine faith in Christ is just as much caught as taught. Pray that over the course of the year, a sincere awareness of the need for Jesus would emerge in your teen’s heart, and that they would catch fire in their faith like never before.
3. My child does not need to be involved because he/she has Christian friends outside the local church
From Valley Bible Church:
Christian friends outside the context of a church are fine, but it is no replacement for the church. One of the things Jesus came to do was to establish the church (Matthew 16:18). We are not just a collection of individual Christians. God has designed each Christian to function in the body of Christ, His church (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) and there is a clear responsibility to serve for the benefit of all. There is truly a degree of accountability, authority and responsibility that are critical to the Christian life and cannot be reproduced outside the church.
Having Christian friends outside of your church community is great, but cultivating Christian friendships within your church is extremely important both short and long-term.
4. My child gets what a youth group offers through their Christian school
From Valley Bible Church:
While there are positive elements to Christian schools, one of the disadvantages is that people are tempted to wrongly think they replace participation in youth groups. Although this is surely not the intention of school administrators, it nevertheless is a common perspective. There are many ways that a youth group is fundamentally different than a Christian school:
• The youth group is part of the local church, which Christ established (cf. Matthew 16:18). A youth group is a part of a church, which continues. Young people will one day graduate from school and need to transition to something entirely different. Thus a youth group integrated within a local church often provides a critical context for continuing on in the faith.
• A youth group is made up of a diversity of people from different backgrounds. Christian schools, due to the cost of tuition, tend to draw from only part of the community (economically speaking). We are all enriched by rubbing shoulders and learning to “do life” with Christians from a variety of backgrounds, and a youth group is a great context for this important element of Christian maturity to take place.
• The focus of a school, by definition, is academics. The focus of a youth ministry is (or should be!) discipleship and spiritual growth. While a school can include ministry and a church can educate, each has a different primary function. I think we’d all agree that it’s unreasonable to tell a student that they no longer need to go to a Christian school because they attend a youth group, so why do we think the opposite is somehow reasonable?
• A young person can reach out to others and bring them to the ministry of a youth group. It is rather difficult to do this with a Christian school.
5. We have recently begun attending the church and my child does not want to participate in the youth ministry
You can’t expect your teen to get excited about getting involved in a new group just because you’ve decided to attend a new church. They often feel forced and coerced in such situations, so patience and prayer is the key here. Besides your patient encouragement, many youth group leaders will help by inviting your youth to activities and discovering if there is anyone in the youth group who knows your child and can invite them.
6. My child doesn’t know anyone in the group
Most youth ministries works hard to help new students feel welcomed and part of the group. Also, most youth groups tend to have a steady stream of new people coming into them, so there is no “window of opportunity” after which new people are pushed back to “next year.” Many youth pastors coach their leadership and “regulars” to be welcoming and hospitable to new students testing out the group.
7. My child tried the group and left
This one is a catch-22. Most students stay connected to youth groups via significant relationships. However, significant relationships are built over time. This means that students (especially ones who aren’t as connected) need to continue to attend, even during times where they feel they don’t know many people. There are no short-cuts with this one. My encouragement would be for parents to help coach their child to mature through this challenge by helping them develop stronger social skills and good old fashioned perseverance. This would put your child in the best position to build godly relationships within the church. Many youth pastors are willing to sit down with these discouraged/frustrated students and help them process why they left and brainstorm alternatives that would allow them to plug in and get connected.
8. My child simply does not want to go
From Valley Bible Church:
This is often the bottom line reason. When all is said and done, all of us attend church to the degree we want to. Yet whenever a child comes to the youth group they have an opportunity to respond to God’s Word, to change their heart and for someone to reach out and help them. As with many important things in life, we don’t always want to do what is best for us. If you as a parent believe your child is best served through [your church’s] youth ministry, then our encouragement is for you to not abandon your responsibility of leadership in your home (Ephesians 6:1-4). This will take wisdom and you may wish to consult our youth leaders, who have experience in helping youth through difficult times.
Personally speaking, I love to sit down with parents and help them work through the challenge that a teen stubbornly refusing to attend youth group creates. Don’t lose hope or courage! Email me and let’s talk!