Is The Church Engaging Young People?

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During a recent conference, I led a solution group to discuss the challenges of youth engagement and the increasing divide between young people and the church. It was a massive experience for some of the adults in attendance as later feedback confirmed.

We wanted to understand why many young people (especially with church background) would not stay in church, don’t seem to love Jesus, won’t serve God or even be an integral part of the larger society in a positive way. You can imagine the atmosphere!

During my research, I discovered some interesting statistics from a combination of a research report “Why Are Young People Leaving The Church” and other sources on the Internet:

  • 7 in 10 young people do not feel engaged in church.
  • 22% say the church ignores real-world problems, hence making them out of touch with their personal struggles.
  • 1 in 3 youths says church is boring and unfriendly
  • 22% says the GOD experience was missing in church and they end up with significant doubts about their faith


It is undoubtedly true that young people seek identity and that is not being patronising. I have lived the experience myself. But these are staggering statistics. Not the number per se, but the implications this has on actual people, real ministries and the future of the church. The thought of that suddenly makes you realise this is more than a numbers thing! The future of the church is at stake. We are at stake!

The one single question that kept on coming back in my group (I purposely kept on refocusing discussion on it) was:
“Is the church doing enough to engage young people?”

Obviously, church ministries are diverse and adopt different approaches. But there is universality of challenge across, no matter your church or even personal background.

At the end of my group discussion, I delivered a talk to the wider 200+ participants on the realities of the challenges the church is facing and some possible solutions. But before I share what I said (in a new post), I would like to hear your views on this subject:

  • Is the church as a whole doing enough to engage young people?
  • What, in your opinion, can or should the church do (or be doing) to win young people?
  • Have you been or are you part of a ministry that successfully engages its youths? How did (do) you do it? What are your success ingredients?

I want to read from you. Your views are so crucial to me personally and to many others in the work I do. Leave a comment.

About Joseph Iregbu

I'm a writer, purpose guy, speaker and business consultant. My passion is to help people live with purpose and not waste their lives. I live in the UK with my wife, Temi and our gorgeous Isabel Juda. Let's connect on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Joanna

    Those are some frightening stats:
    It is hard to understand this youth culture’s rebellion … restlessness … resentment … aloofness … until you understand one simple fact … the family as we knew it 50 years ago, is almost non-existent today. There’s nothing you can do much more eternally significant than to stir up inside of you a heart of a spiritual big brother or sister … mom or dad toward the youth in your ministry.
    The Bible has some great lessons on Spiritual Parenting.
    What qualifies you to be a spiritual parent?
    Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17, “I am not writing this to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you do not have many fathers.” Don’t those verses pierce your soul?

    Not only that, taking it a step further. While there are a lot of great youth communicators and youth ministry CEO’s out there, its not communication skills or the size of my ministry that matters you will impact the students in your ministry the most by the way the Jesus Christ inside of you makes them feel. as you become an adopted “big sis, bro” or “spiritual mom or dad.”
    Bottom line, one of the most eternally significant things you can do is to stir up inside of you the heart of a spiritual parent. In addition to hearing some sobering stats, listen in and get insight on how to live this out.

    there are a few creative elements which can be used in your youth meetings that will make a huge difference in the “boredom factor.” Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you use all of these approaches every week. But the use of even one or two (on a rotational basis) each week would be a huge help in adding life to your meeting. Allow me to list just a few simple suggestions.

    But first, let me preface my words with one simple warning: None of these suggestions are “new.” You have probably considered most of them many times over. But the bottom line is that we have to exert enough emotional energy to actually USE some of these approaches regularly, not just keep procrastinating them until “another night.” (In other words, creativity will take a little extra work on your part, but I promise you that it will be well worth your effort.)

    Use movie clips, tv clips or YouTube videos that relate to your topic. It’s so simple to brainstorm with a couple of your teenagers and find a movie that could relate to your topic. Then connect with one of your students to do simple editing. Simple as this approach might be, it invariable brings energy to the room.
    We want to make your life easier!!

    Use one of your teenagers to give a monologue with appropriate music underneath it. just let them to put into words what lots of other teenagers in the youth group are feeling on this subject. If you dim the lights during the monologue, put a cheap spotlight on the student, and play cool sound track music under them as they speak, you will have a home run for the evening.

    Have a couple of your creative students write and perform a 5 minute drama segment that applies to your topic. Here’s the great news…all you have to really know about your message is the main subject you’re going to deal with. That’s enough to get their creative wheels in motion. After you experiment with this a couple of times, teenagers will start coming out of the woodwork who are great at writing and acting.

    Ask one of your students to share his own testimony that relates to the topic you are talking about. The more you keep “changing voices” throughout your evening, the less likely boredom will be.
    If the truth be told, I think today’s fast paced media has made all of us a little ADD. So rather than resenting the quite “boredom cracks,” you’ll love the fulfillment of making simple changes. Remember, the worst communication method to use with teenagers is the one you use all the time.

    So hang in there, my youth ministry friend. Your stories are ahead for you too…that is, of course, unless you quit too soon.

    God bless

    • Wow, Joanna… that’s amazing! You have laid out lots of pragmatic approaches which I have experienced to work effectively. There is so much every reader involved in ministering to young people can do with this. I think you rightly pointed out the key message of some failures in the home (I know we can be hard on parents sometimes but truth be told) and the need for leaders to position themselves to become spiritual parents like Paul did. That’s a huge insight.

      May I ask – are you involved in youth ministry? And where? Thanks for sharing. Much appreciated.

      Joseph

  • Joanna

    You are welcome. you have some good writings up here. I use to be in youth ministry, Not anymore but the ministry of the young people is personal and close to my heart so i still follow up where required.
    Cheers

    • Thanks for your kind words. I agree, investing our lives into young people is a life-long calling. Hope to see you around here some time soon
      Grace and peace.

      Joseph

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  • Jody McPhearson

    No! That would be the short answer. If the question is the church as a whole doing enough to engage young people. If there were a short answer, that answer would simply be no!
    When answering the question, “What should the church do, (or be doing), to win young people”, we have to look at the entire church, and not just youth ministry.
    We often think that if we make youth ministry more fun, engaging, or worldy, then they will stay. The truth of the matter is that this is often more entertaining for them, but it has no lasting impact. It is only sustainable until the next, more entertaining thing comes along.
    Youth ministry is a great place to begin, but the changes in programming have to be aligned with the bigger picture of discipleship. It is fine to “catch fish”, but at some point, a fisherman has to “clean them”.
    The church as a whole has to remove the youth from “quarantine”. (You know isolated in the little room in the back). The youth ministry can not be a babysitting service. It must line up with the vision of the church as a whole.
    Youth need to be challenged. They need to be encoyraged to use their gifts and not the gifts of their grandparents and parents. Because the grandfather was an usher does not mean that their gift is ushering. What if their gift is photography, or social media management? The church has to see beyond just tradition and see the totality of gifts. A limb on the body that is never used becomes of no use!
    Sorry, my friend, I did not mean to write another blog, but you asked a question that there is no short answer to. 🙂

    • Jody, thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on the topic. I’ve been engaging young people for several years and I still cannot give an answer as to why the church always tend to go to two extremes: overly traditional (conservative, unwilling to adapt) and overly worldly (entertainment, fun, noise, conferences without spiritual impact, etc). Why do you find it hard to balance? Is there a God-centred prescription for raising young people within the context of church ministry? I know what you’d probably say: don’t distinguish, they’re part of the core church ministry. That’s absolutely true and I agree. But faced with the current challenge where young people are leaving the church, what practical actions can we take?