Six Core Things Teens Need From the Church
“I no longer believe in God.”
Jon Steingard, lead singer for the Christian pop band Hawk Nelson, wrote these words on Instagram on May 20, 2020.
Jon grew up in a Christian home. God and church had always been central in his life. He wrote in his post, “When you grow up in a community that holds a shared belief, and that shared belief is so incredibly central to everything, you simply adopt it. Everyone I was close to believed in God, accepted Jesus into their hearts, prayed for signs and wonders, and participated in church, youth groups, conferences, and ministry. So I did too.”
But as Jon rose in popularity as a Christian singer, doubts, questions, and depression brewed beneath the surface.
“There were still many things about Christian culture that made me uncomfortable,” Jon confessed. “If God is all loving, and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can he not do anything about it? Does he choose not to? . . . If God is loving, why does he send people to hell? . . . Why does Jesus have to die for our sins . . . ? If God can do anything, can’t he forgive without someone dying? . . . I was raised to believe that the Bible was the perfect Word of God . . . I began to have questions and doubts about that.”
Reading Jon’s struggles deeply saddened me because he isn’t the only one wrestling with them. According to the Barna Group, 64 percent of 18–29 year-olds who grew up in church will walk away from it. As a young adult, I’ve personally seen friends and peers drift from God. It breaks my heart.
The reasons people walk away from God are as varied as the individuals themselves. But there are six core things teens need from their churches and Christian communities to help them wrestle with tough questions, live beyond a borrowed faith, and stay strong in a world of tremendous pressure.
1. INTENTIONAL DISCIPLESHIP
Robust discipleship is often missing in churches and youth groups. Instead of an atmosphere of serious growth, we often find one of entertainment, with the goal of “drawing in a crowd.” But this approach leaves much to be desired. Remarking on this, A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Segments of Christianity have made every possible concession in efforts to win young people to Christ; but instead of converting them to Christ, they have ‘converted’ Christianity to them.”
Without a focus on discipleship, churches send teens into an anti-Christian, opinionated, and volatile society, armed with little more than a good time instead of discipleship and truth. Teens can’t wrestle through these challenges alone. They need wise mentors who will thoughtfully and lovingly provide guidance, direction, and accountability—inside and outside of church.
While teens may reject truth for a time, please don’t give up on them or give in to the natural inclinations of their sinful hearts, which—like all of ours—veer toward comfort and entertainment.
The fun may keep us coming, but it doesn’t feed our souls. Don’t be content with high attendance rates accompanied by empty souls and inadequate discipleship.
2. OPEN CONVERSATION ABOUT HARD TOPICS
Teens who walk away from faith are often those who adopted their system of belief from the people around them instead of thinking through faith for themselves. Questioning and learning are parts of growth. It’s vital for young adults to approach hard questions head-on, consider different aspects of a topic, and thoughtfully draw conclusions.
Encourage healthy discussion amongst teens, and openly discuss hard issues. Teens will seek and find answers to their questions. If they don’t find them within the context of Christian community, they’ll most likely find them on social media or through friends and likely won’t find truth.
Hidden doubts fester, but actively seeking answers brings growth and maturity. Don’t be afraid of a teen’s questions or doubts, and please don’t give trite replies. Instead, allow for genuine soul-searching and open conversations.
3. BIBLICAL LITERACY
Teens need the truth of Scripture to navigate our anti-Christian, post-truth culture. Yet many teens are biblically ignorant. They may be familiar with a few catch-phrase verses, but they don’t actually know how to read and study the Bible.
Biblical ignorance equals an unsteady foundation, one that can’t weather the storms of cultural pressure, anti-biblical worldviews, and simple questions such as “Why do you believe in God?” and “What is truth?” If they’re biblically illiterate, teens may begin to doubt God and Christianity because their piecemeal scriptural knowledge can’t hold up against the pressure and conflicting opinions they face in the world.
Teach the entirety of God’s Word to teens in your church. Show them how to read and study it themselves. They can handle it. Even more, they need it.
4. SOLID THEOLOGY
Who is God? Is God good? Is God real? Is God loving?
Every question teens have about Christianity is ultimately a question about God. There are answers to our toughest questions, but without solid theology, we don’t learn them. If our understanding of God is skewed, our entire view of faith, Christianity, the gospel, the church, and even ourselves is also skewed.
While many people think teens can’t handle tough topics like theology or comprehend subjects like biblical doctrine, these topics are not optional but foundational—for everyone in the church.
5. TRUTH-FILLED APOLOGETICS
The world is flooded with unbiblical opinions and arguments. Everything from how the world began to the deity of Jesus Christ is under attack. Apologetics is a valuable tool to help teens answer tough questions with confidence.
Teach teens not only what they believe, but why Christianity is true; not only that they should believe in God, but who God actually is. Help them dig into the historical, scientific, philosophical, and theological truths of Christianity to create a fully-fleshed, three-dimensional view of God, the Bible, and following Jesus.
As important as it is to be intellectually equipped, it’s possible to know all the facts, learn all the arguments, follow all the rules, and have answers to all the questions without ever falling in love with Jesus Christ.
Teens need to fall in love with Jesus. He is the only one who can transform their lives, redeem their souls, and forgive their sins. He himself is the answer to all their questions and struggles. Jesus does not call Christians to simply believe a set of facts or follow a list of rules, but to lay down their lives in pursuit of him and cling to Christ as life itself.
Too many teens have a loveless Christianity. Lured by compromise and beaten down with doubt, they forsake their first love. As I say in my book Love Riot,
“Following Christ is a pattern that always comes back to, and is paved, with love. This love for Christ overtakes and transforms our lives . . . It turns our lives into living sacrifices of worship, as we’re overwhelmed with his love for us . . . Without love for God, we have nothing.”
YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE
Sadly, people will walk away from God. Like those who turned from Jesus in John 6, they’ll say it’s too hard or that Christianity is untrue.
But there is hope for this generation! God is still at work, his words are still true, and he is relentlessly pursuing the heart of every individual. There is still a remnant who will proclaim, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
It’s our responsibility to teach teens those words of eternal life. Let’s do our job well. Let’s equip instead of entertain, teach teens the hard truths they need to hear, pray for them fervently, love them unconditionally, and always point them back to Jesus.
God continues to pursue the prodigal—from Jon Steingard to every person who’s walked away from faith to every teen struggling with doubt. He will never give up on them.
And neither should we.
Sara Barratt © 2021 Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This article originally appeared on GCDiscipleship.com.