For most of this year I and others have been praying into the vulnerable situation surrounding our young people or ‘teenagers’. Two things really caused me concern and motivated me to focus on this. The first was the conviction that as a church we were sleep-walking through a critical period of life for an increasing number of our 11-18 year olds. We provide a Sunday-based evangelism and discipleship programme but it is sporadically attended and has only about half the total present each of the 2 or so sessions possible per month. When events were arranged extra to Sundays the participation was weak with excuses and apologies often arriving in the last hours – such is the WhatsApp connected world! My second major concern was the fact that our children reflect the prevailing mental health situation among youth in the Netherlands today. While there was a voiced desire for a peer group and fellowship young people could belong to as they seek to hold faith in a secular context, many things seemed to work against that. It seemed to me that this required attention, maybe a pastor to help gather the youth alongside existing youth ministry teams that meet on Sundays.
In recent weeks some clarity has come which I would like to share as we continue to pray for our young people. After analysing and reflecting on some recent experiences it seems that the structure of the situation can be seen. Here are the factors I see:
- Like so many adults, teenagers are overloaded with demands, appointments and activities. Being over-committed does not happen overnight. It seems that from childhood on the expectation of parents and children is that the child will have cultural and sporting involvements. These are extra to school and in the secular Netherlands these take up more and more of the ‘weekend’ with higher levels of involvement involving trips away and Sunday activity.
- These activities are extra to the increasing academic loads from schools that build through the teen years so that a Sunday-based church commitment cannot always be maintained, especially when Saturday is already committed.
- A third level of disruptor to Sunday based ministry is -surprisingly- the family. If the teenager is seen as part of the family and all its activities and the plans made for a Sunday or weekend do not include church the teenager will miss any scheduled ministry event designed for their discipleship and formation.
- Finally, and not surprisingly, the sporadic contact among our church youth means they do not build confident relationships of peer fellowship in their groups and that is bad for teenagers.
So even if the teenager wants to attend teen-church events and explore faith in Christ there are several things working against that. The program offered may itself be highly attractive and competently run but school, activities and family often work to ensure that during the teenage years children may have little contact with other Christian youth or the ministries provided to promote their faith formation.
What to do?
Firstly let’s keep praying to seek wisdom in this, especially for parents who are the primary pastors of their children leading them to adult faith.
Secondly, parents need to recognise the strategic importance of the 11-17 years and make the choices and arrangements that prioritise faith development in a world that allows very little space or interest in that.
If you have thoughts or insight about this I would welcome hearing from you. This is a challenging situation and probably different from the world we grew up in.