So, I'm reading another book that is talking about the fact that today's church is losing university students in droves. Honestly, I can't disagree, but I don't think we are losing college students, I think we're losing Jr. High students.
One of the things I was always aware of as a youth pastor were the relational warning flags for students in my ministry. You know, it was that shift that takes place where their friendships change, their sphere of influence goes from their more committed friends at church, to their friends at school, or from church that support their chosen new view on life.
I used to say, that if I could keep students connected and active in our youth ministry through the 10th grade, then chances of their faith sticking beyond the high school years jumped incrementally. Notice I said connected and active, not attending. The reason is that I think we lose students in Jr. High, emotionally, and then they start voting with their feet once they can drive.
I mean, for most Jr. High and young High school students, they'll put up with bad preaching for 30 minutes to be able to see their friends. Chances are, if they have begun to check out the party scene, their experimentation began with the friends they hang around with at church anyway. So their church can still meet their needs socially, but somewhere along the line they have checked out spiritually, and I'm growing more and more convinced that it happens at a much younger age than some are suspecting.
So, how do we address the Jr. high disconnect? Not the answer-all, but from this youth pastor's perspective, these three wouldn't hurt.
One, engage their parents. If you have their parents, if they buy-in to what you're selling (maybe a bad metaphor, but you know what I mean) your chances of keeping their students around increase. But parents can't do it alone, and statistics also show that you can't do it without them.
Two, connect them relationally with an adult, who isn't their parent, of the same gender, that is a strong person of faith. Three of the four of those should be fairly easy, the last being the most difficult, but not impossible. They need an adult that invests in them, mentors them, loves them, allows them to question, make mistakes, and chases after them when they try and walk away. Adults that don't give up on Jr. high and early high school students are crucial to saving this generation of college students. Listen, the day of teaching one hour of Sunday School, and believing that is enough is gone. It's time for adults to step up, and fight for our students like a lioness for her cubs. If we don't, someone else will.
Three, have this adult live in community with them, and two or three of their peers. I believe in the importance of community, and the role their friends play in their lives. I don't believe, anymore, in student-led small groups until college. Jr. high and high school students need adults investing in their lives, mentoring them, showing them what it means to be men and women of faith in this world, because they don't know, and somebody has to show them.
Now listen, this isn't new. I'm not saying anything radically different than what has been said over the last ten years. It's basically what every book I've been reading is saying, from Christian Smith's Soul Searching to David Kinneman's You Lost Me; to just name two. So why aren't we doing something about it?
Now, that's a good question.