Our friends at Fuller Youth Institute have been researching what makes faith stick as youth transition to adulthood. The study they did with 500 youth group graduates revealed three surprising and key findings. I wanted to focus on the first key finding in this post.
While churches across the U.S. have tended to allocate financial and personnel resources toward building strong and dynamic youth groups, teenagers also need to rub shoulders and build relationships with adults of all ages.
Programs and staff are nice, but it’s really about relationships, relationships, relationships. If we as youth workers are not leveraging potential relational connections between adults in our church and young people we are missing the mark. I’m reminded of what John J. DiIulio, the first director of the White House Office of Faith & Community Based Initiatives under President Bush, said about preventing juvenile crime and substance abuse among teens:
Strategically, the key to preventing youth crime and substance abuse among our country’s expanding juvenile population is to improve the real, live, day to day connections between responsible adults and young people – period… No policy, program or intervention that fails to build a meaningful connection between responsible adults and at-risk young people has worked or can.
DiIulio was talking community-based programming, but do we really think that it is any different within the Church? Sure we have the Gospel, but look at what the Apostle Paul’s method with the church in Thesslonica. He wrote, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well,” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, NIV). He brought the Gospel, but didn’t shirk meeting relational needs among those in the church there.
Youth need be exposed to many different adults. The Search Institute with their 40 developmental assets note that one key asset for a youth to have is “other adult relationships” this is measured by a young person receiving support from three or more nonparent adults. If we’re not doing that in the church where is it going to be accomplished? Anecdotally I’ve noticed in my 19 years of youth ministry experience that the kids who tend to “stick” are the ones who are engaged throughout the life of the church, not just involved in the youth ministry. Why is that? I’m sure it’s not in small part due to rubbing shoulders and developing relationships with a variety of adults throughout the church.
Get your students connected to as many adults as possible in your church, and as parents we need to consider what adults within the church would be great role models for our kids. We should be proactive with this. Don’t wait for the youth pastor to do it.