How Do We Keep Youth in the Church?

Gary Hartke

The Charter for Nazarene Youth International includes this vision statement:

The Church of the Nazarene believes that young people are an integral part of the Church. Nazarene Youth International exists to lead young people into a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ and to facilitate their growth as disciples for Christian service. (Manual 810.3)

This vision statement emphasizes the long-term goal of youth ministry to connect young people to Jesus Christ and His Church for a lifetime. Just as careful attention is given to how to reach youth for Christ, a local church must also give careful attention to retaining youth. To do this, we should first think about why youth leave the church. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Life disruption. Anytime a youth goes through a disruption in life there is the potential for change in behavior. This could be changing schools, the start of a new job, becoming part of a club or team, or break up of family. A disruption in life may also result in the change of church youth participation.
  2. Yearning for Independence. A natural part of adolescence is experiencing a growing autonomy from parents and authority. This can result in a rejection of those things that the parents and or authority required of the adolescent earlier in life. Youth who have viewed church participation as a requirement may rebel as they experience independence.
  3. Mobility. The more mobility the adolescent has, the more options he or she has with where to go. Local church participation comes into competition with other options now available.
  4. Change in beliefs. Adolescence can also be a time of questioning beliefs. Some youth begin to question God and the Bible. The time of questioning can lead to doubt and disbelief.

These are just a few reasons why youth stop attending church. These reasons remind us to be proactive in engaging youth strategically to help them overcome these challenges and remain connected to the church. Here are some things a local church can do:

  1. Emphasize a personal decision. Give youth an opportunity to declare their faith. Perhaps they have been participating in church because of the belief of parents and have never considered a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  2. Increase the encouragement. Recognize that youth will encounter disruption in life that will result in other options rather than attending church. This is a time to stay close to youth and increase the encouragement.
  3. Anticipate the changes. Take notice when youth begin a new job, change schools, or move to new area. These moments of disruption are important times for the church to move closer to the youth and strengthen the support.
  4. Connect to the congregation. Integrate the youth into the congregation in meaningful ways. Provide them with opportunity to serve in ministry. Genuine and authentic relationships are important to youth – help create community for them.
  5. Engage in the mission. Youth want to be part of a church that has an outward focus on mission. This positions the church to be relevant in the life of the youth. Providing them with a sense of purpose.

You are important to helping youth stay connected to the church for a lifetime. It begins by understanding reasons why they may leave, and countering strategically with ideas that help them work through those challenging times to become stronger in their faith.

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