In a recent Pew study, 70 percent of American teens said faith is very or somewhat important in their lives. Interestingly enough, in a Lifeway Research poll, when asked about their participation level within their faith community, only 44 percent attend their church once monthly, and just 37 percent of those who do attend church “are committed to the purpose and work of the church.”
Reading these statistics tells us a couple of things. First, faith is a part of a teen’s life and purpose. Second, there’s a disconnect between the church and our teens’ faith and purpose. What I would like to share with you is how Riverbank Church (the church where I serve as pastor) has worked to connect teens’ faith to the local church and how we have had some success in doing so with a few different guiding truths.
1. Have a Clear WHY (Habakkuk 2:1-3)
Young people of today are distinctly cause-driven, and research shows that the majority of Gen Z students will take action for a cause they believe in. Your church must have a clear “why,” or purpose (traditionally called a “vision”), if you want them to be engaged. Our faith is the greatest cause – Jesus’ good news! If your church has a clear “why” that is consistently communicated, this provides an easy pathway for teens and young people to engage in various ways.
At our church, we talk about the rescue mission of Jesus – the greatest cause of all time. It resonates with all people, but especially young people who are seeking a cause to be connected to. Does your church have a clear why? Define your biblical cause, and communicate it in language that resonates with your students.
2. Make Invitation a Priority (Ephesians 2:10)
Youth must know that they are invited to be involved in the cause. Oftentimes, young people in church see the cause, know about it, and want to be a part of it. But if they aren’t intentionally invited by people who are leading the cause, then they will automatically believe it’s for “them” and not “us.”
At your church, is the invitation to involvement confusing, difficult, or maybe even non-existent? If you want youth to be a part of the cause of your church, make it easy for them to know they can engage. You must invite them to join the cause!
Personally, as the lead communicator in our church, I will intentionally invite young people to engage by communicating from the platform, in face-to-face conversations, and through their parents. Are you regularly inviting young people into places of serving and volunteering? Make it a point to invite teens and young people into the great cause of your church community. Create a culture of invitation, even to the youngest of participants!
3. Celebrate Often (Ecclesiastes 11:9)
Take time to celebrate and recognize the fact that God uses young people in the rescue mission. You cannot celebrate enough when a young person responds to the invitation to serve in the church.
There is a young adult leader in our church who has been raised up through the leadership and is now our worship and student ministry director. He started serving at nine years old; now, at twenty-two, he is a huge part of helping people take the next step in their faith. It has been a joy to see him courageously step into new opportunities – he has been celebrated along the way by myself, other adult leaders, and attenders. He knows that his engagement is important, and it brings God more glory.
Fan the flames of your young people and their engagement by celebrating them often!
“U.S. Teens Take After Their Parents Religiously, Attend Services Together and Enjoy Family Rituals.” Pew Research Center, 2020.
“Most Teenagers Drop Out of Church When They Become Young Adults.” Lifeway Research, 2019. https://research.lifeway.com/2019/01/15/most-teenagers-drop-out-of-church-as-young-adults/
Chris Goeppner serves as lead pastor of Riverbank Church in White River Junction, Vermont. He is married to the love of his life, Penny, and they have two sons, Roman and Jadon, who they adopted from Russia 15 years ago. He enjoys the beach, Celtics basketball, and spending time with his family. Pastor Chris and his family moved to Vermont from sunny Florida back in 2010 to plant Riverbank Church. They have loved being a part of God moving in New England!