You don’t have to look far to find stats, articles, or books on what’s wrong with the church today and how the next generation of young people is leaving in droves upon their high school graduation. In fact, a study from Lifeway Research found two-thirds (66%) of American young adults who regularly attended a Protestant church for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.
We’re constantly hearing about ways the church has fallen short of what God has called it to be. Blogs and articles tell us what changes the church needs to make to attract the next generation. In fairness, the stats are real, and much of this content is justified. As the church, we should always strive to be better witnesses and be more effective at reaching the next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ—to figure out ways to not only keep young people engaged with the church but also to teach them to value and love the church. So at times, it’s necessary to point out the faults, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies.
However, I want to talk about what’s right with the church. As believing adults and leaders, it’s our calling to disciple students to stay engaged with the local church and serve it well. Rather than complain about the church’s faults and criticize those who leave, we need to start discipling students to stay, love the church, and help build the church to be all that Jesus calls it to be.
Thankfully, the Word of God is effective at pointing out what’s beautiful about the church. It teaches us how to love and serve the church. Here are four truths the next generation needs to know about the local church:
1. There is One Church
I’m a huge fan of age-specific ministries. However, one of the biggest mistakes we make in a student ministry is operating like a church within a church. Many youth groups have their own names, logos, and vision and mission statements. They rarely interact with the local church at large.
If a student ministry runs like a church within a church, when teens graduate out of that student ministry, they feel like they’re joining a different church even though it meets at the same address. It’s a strange transition for them because they don’t know the leadership, the vision, or have any established relationships outside the youth group. That’s why many leave.
Take time to disciple a generation, and operate as one church with multiple generations. Find ways for the entire congregation to be on mission together, serve together, and build relationships together.
“…in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5, CSB).
2. The Church is Your Forever Family
If you’ve been bought by the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit of God lives inside you, you are the church. Disciple the next generation to understand the church isn’t a building; it’s a people. The next generation is the church. If they’re the church, they will always be a part of the church even when they try to run from the local expression of it.
When God saves you, He brings you into a family. The local church is God’s answer to your loneliness. As the church, you can laugh together and cry together. You can rejoice together and mourn together. That’s a beautiful word: together.
Like with your physical family, you’ll be annoyed, frustrated, and inconvenienced by your spiritual family. However, as leaders, it’s our responsibility to disciple young people to not run from and abandon church but to press in. Enjoy the church. Love the church. Serve the church. We will spend eternity together, after all.