Teens’ Faith on the Decline — A Potential Solution?

Hait PrayerThe great guys at youthministry360 gave us the first heads up on the latest study from the Barna Group: How Teenagers’ Faith Practices are Changing. It’s well worth the read if you have the time.

The researchers spotlighted a disturbing trend. 
They concluded that teenagers’ faith is declining, but the spiritual losses have escaped the notice of youth workers and church leaders. 
Church/youth group attendance is great–about 60 percent of all teens are engaged in some type of “group spiritual activity” each week. So on the surface, everything’s cool. Look closer, though, and the deeper, more personal aspects of teens’ faith are suffering. Small group attendance, prayer, witnessing, and Sunday school attendance are all down. 
The report says:
The most striking change was the fact that teenagers today seem much less inclined to have spiritual conversations about their faith in Christ with non-believers. The survey question specifically asked if the survey respondent had “explained your religious beliefs to someone else who had different beliefs, in the hope that they might accept Jesus Christ as their savior.” Among born again Christian teenagers, the proportion who said they had explained their beliefs to someone else with different faith views in the last year had declined from nearly two-thirds of teenagers in 1997 (63%) to less than half of Christian teens in the December 2009 study (45%).

Teens are coming to youth group and church each week because it’s “cool to be a Christian” (another one of the study’s findings) and they have friends there. For many, Christianity has become less about a life-stretching faith and more about socialization.

While AIM exists to spread the Gospel to the nations and deliver much-needed assistance to the poor, it’s also an organization that seeks to build and encourage a young generation of disciples who will live world-changing lives, refusing to just coast on through. That’s why we believe in the power of short-term missions.

Short-term missions have the ability to shock teens out of their everyday routine. STMs teach teens to turn off their cell phones and move their inward focus out and up to a God that’s way bigger than they ever could have imagined. 

Mission trips put teens in an environment where they have to pray–about what they’re going to do that day; for the needs of others; and for Someone who’s bigger, smarter, and far beyond them to put poverty and suffering and everything that’s wrong with this world into perspective.

Mission trips make witnessing mandatory. Teens are tasked with telling someone about Jesus while they’re building a home or dressing a wound. Their (very natural) fear of rejection gets shoved aside to handle the job of telling someone who’s never heard the Gospel message about what it means to be a follower of The Way.

Is heading out on a week-long mission trip the entire answer to the dying spirituality of teenagers? Of course not. But it could be part of the solution. 

It could be the spark…
that lights the fuse…
that explodes the potential… 
in the heart of a teen…
who otherwise would just be another person of untapped potential.

After all, Jesus didn’t say to go and make small groups. He didn’t say to go and host another program or party. He said, “Go and make disciples.”