Are youth the future of the church?
I have heard for decades the statement that, “The youth are the church of the future.” Usually church members and leaders use this phrase when there is a push to establish, sustain, grow, and fund youth ministries in the local church.
I was once a youth minister/youth worker in two churches. The first was a rather large congregation in Bristol, Va., and the other a mid-size church in Johnson City, Tenn.
I have also served as the pastor of a number of churches over the years and I have also been committed to a good youth program. Once, when we had no extra money, we took a leap of faith and hired a youth minister — not knowing where the money would come from. The money did come and the youth pastor was an excellent investment that still benefits that church’s youth program today.
So, are the youth the future of the church? No. And yes.
Over the years, I have observed that, for the most part, youth, once graduated from high school, will leave for college or the military. Rarely do they return to serve, as adults, the church that nurtured them as they were growing up.
So, if the church leadership is looking for a return on their investment in future leadership of that congregation, then, no, the youth are not the future of your church. It wasw a hard realization to come to.
In my own case, I was exposed to church and the Christian life at Mountain View United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn. Being part of the church, and especially the United Methodist Youth, was transformative. Of the highlights of my high school life, that 3-4 year experience ranks at the top.
Yet, I enlisted in the Marine Corps, later went to college, was married at Mountain View, but moved to Colorado, and then to Georgia, but never returned to the church except for a few visits.
My three sons grew up at Trinity Fellowship Assembly of God in Sharpsburg, Ga., but moved on to other parts of their life. None served as an adult leader in that church which was so much a part of their lives for over 13 years. So, are we to conclude that a good youth ministry is a poor investment and not worth the effort?
In my case, I became a life-long minister. My oldest son is a priest. Our youth group experiences, as in the case of the others’ sons, helped to make us who we are. We may not have returned to the churches of our youth, but we continue in service to the church in other arenas.
Perhaps it would be good to think of the youth ministry as a school — or even as a boot camp. Some, but not many, students will return to their high school to become teachers. The vast majority leave high school never to return except to reunions. Yet, the high school helped to prepare them for life.
Drill Instructors rarely will see their recruits after the boot camp experience is completed. A very few will return as drill instructors but, again, not many. Yet, every Marine will declare that the boot camp experience changed his or her life and prepared him for battle.
Perhaps THIS is the greatest value of youth ministry — the training and preparation of young men and women to go out and be effective Christians wherever life may take them.
It is a certainty that youth are the future of the Greater Church — the Church beyond our own walls. Though I never returned to Mountain View to assume an adult participatory or leadership role, I carry the church with me wherever I go. They invested in me and in countless other youth through the years. Hopefully we have all served well and have made a difference.
So, yes, It is well worth the investment.
[David Epps is the pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Highway 34 E, Sharpsburg, GA. Sunday service times are 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop for his denomination for Georgia and Tennessee.]