I grew up in Southern California attending church. After high school, I planned to slowly “fade away” and jump instead into the freedom of college life. I was disillusioned with the church, and I had many unanswered questions about God and the Bible that I assumed had no satisfying answers. I was very close to becoming another statistic of youth leaving the church.
However, God had other plans for me. During my freshman year of college, I was encouraged to check out a church (where I still serve today). As a cynical “churched” freshman, my heart thawed toward God as I experienced a modern-day Acts 2:42-47 community. I saw people living out their faith concretely. My mentors from church gave me some reasonable and intellectual answers to my questions that were not addressed growing up, and I found myself opening up to the gospel message and Jesus’s invitation to follow Him. Shortly after, I gave my life to following Jesus—and the rest is history.
I have been in student ministry for almost three decades, and, tragically, my story is not so foreign to those who grew up in the church. Research reveals that, more than ever before, young people are disengaging from the church and walking away from the faith at an alarming rate (50 to 70 percent) by the time they enter college. According to William Lane Craig in his book, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, “It’s not just that they lose their faith in a hostile university environment. Rather, many have already abandoned faith while still in the youth group but continue to go through the motions until they’re out from under their parents’ authority.”
Studies also show that Generation Z (born between 2000-2015) is the least religious of all previous generations, and the percentage of teens who identify as atheists is double that of the general population. According to Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace in their book, So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World, Generation Z is projected to become the largest demographic group in the world. Research done by the Barna Group also reveals that intellectual concerns, skepticism, and unanswered questions are the main reasons why youth are leaving the church.
In such a time as this, we need to equip and strengthen the foundations of our young believers much earlier than we have in the past. Equipping students in Christian apologetics is vital in several ways. It helps young believers fortify their faith and grow in personal conviction over why they believe what they believe—so that they can follow Jesus in times of struggle and doubt for the long haul.
Also, many people are insecure to share the gospel out of fear that someone will ask them a difficult question they are not able to answer. Training students in apologetics will bolster courage in evangelism and will forge their identity as ambassadors for Christ.
Another key reason to involve apologetics in our ministry is for evangelism itself and for our non-believing friends. According to George Barna, our society has become post-Christian; in our digital age, with the negative portrayal of Christians and all the misinformation that exists online, people are exposed to confusing opinions and secular worldviews at an earlier age than in any other generation in history—and so a huge gap is formed between the gospel message and the listening ear of a non-believer.
The gospel is primary, as it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16b). Jesus commissions every believer to be gospel-advancing and to “make disciples … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19b-20a). The Word of God also commands us to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have (see 1 Peter 3:15). The Apostle Paul exemplified how to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5a). Gospel proclamation and apologetics go hand in hand.
In our student ministries, we have a “culture of apologetics” where we have a regular rhythm of special talks for outreach; these often include two students and a mentor presenting to their group at least once a month. Recently, we had a pair of sixth-grade students share the gospel in their small group. Another pair of seventh-grade students presented a talk titled, “Does God Exist?” that included the gospel. We had another pair of high school friends give a talk on the historicity of Jesus; many of their non-believing friends came to support them and were listening intently. Students listen to other students.
Another way we train students is through projects like hosting a “Tough Questions Booth” at large events. We train our college students how to answer a tough question conversationally so that they will be prepared to discuss that topic with the youth who attend our events. It’s an amazing experience for both our college students and for the youth who receive answers to their questions from students a few years older. Another way to train students is by reading good books and preparing a talk together, or by watching online training videos from apologetics teachers (such as Sean McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, and William Lane Craig).
By challenging students to wrestle with how they would present their case and respond to people’s questions, you will help them be more attentive when discussing what the Bible says and where the evidence leads. More importantly, the next time they hear these arguments and objections, they will be more prepared; they will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
- Barna Group, Gen Z Volume 1
- Barna Group, Gen Z Volume 2
- Gracepoint Ministries: Course 101 | The Gospel + Apologetics, a seven-week course that includes the full gospel message and apologetics
- Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace, So The Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World
- William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision
- Sean McDowell, A New Kind of Apologist
- David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon
- J. Warner Wallace, Forensic Faith
- Sean McDowell, Best Apologetics Resources for Students
- Impact360 Institute, Jonathan Morrow, What Will (and Won’t) Work in Leading the Next Generation
- Impact360 Institute, Sean McDowell & Jonathan Morrow, Latest Research on Gen Z
- Dare2Share, Greg Stier & Shane Pruitt (NAMB), Lies Christians Believe with Shane Pruitt
Stephen Suh is the director of Area Youth Ministry (AYM), the director of Interhigh Youth Ministry (IYM), and the network director of Gracepoint Ministries. He and his wife, Suzanne, have both been in youth and college ministry for almost three decades and love student ministry. They founded AYM, and they love training and equipping students and leaders to reach the next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They both graduated from UC Berkeley, where they both gave their lives to following Jesus. Stephen later graduated from the Talbot School of Theology, where his love for Christian apologetics grew.
1 thought on “<strong>Defending the Faith: Why Apologetics Is Crucial for Every Youth Ministry</strong> ”
Wow, this is such a interesting argument. You really got us thinking about how we can improve our youth ministry at my church. Keep spreading the Good News!