Preparing Young People for a Life of Faith

Is your church a safe place where youth can question, discuss, and debate controversial faith-science topics like origins and beginning and end of life issues? If not, then consider these tried and tested practical approaches.

By Michael Tenneson

Preparing Young People for a Life of FaithAbout 30 percent of young people who grow up with a Christian background remain committed to their Christian faith through their 20s.1 David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, believes this low percentage is due in part to a failure of churches to teach young people to integrate their calling with faith and culture. He says less than 20 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds “have any idea how the Bible ought to inform their scholastic and professional interests.”2

Although some suggest that college experiences cause church dropout, this does not seem to be the case. Rather, “the university setting does not usually cause the disconnect. It exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples.”3

The Barna Group found six themes that help explain the ongoing youth-church disconnect: 1) churches seem overprotective, 2) youth have had shallow spiritual experiences, 3) churches come across as antagonistic to science, 4) experiences of young people related to sexuality are judgmental and simplistic, 5) youth wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity, and 6) the church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.4 Some critics of the Barna Group’s conclusions quibble with the details. The majority of youth workers, however, agree that an alarming number of young people are distancing themselves from Christianity.

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What is the solution to this disturbing trend? No single cure exists for the array of ailments outlined above. For young people to deepen their faith walk, churches must provide venues for supernatural encounters with God — especially including understanding and receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Contemporary apologetics experts like Sean McDowell and Lee Strobel posit that churches must incorporate both empirical and relational approaches to prepare young Christians for a life of faith beyond the youth group. Young people must have significant personal connections with Christian peers and mentors as they transition from the sheltered youth group environment to the real world. They must also be encouraged to adopt evidence-based approaches to examine the tenets of their faith.5 A strong mentoring relationship can provide the security needed for a young person to venture into the uncharted territory of critical examination of beliefs…


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