Today’s Adolescents and Your Church, Part 2

Posted by Aaron Buer on April 11, 2019

Last week I shared a few observations about what is happening with today’s adolescents.

You can read the post here if you missed it.

The basic idea is that this generation is incredibly stressed and anxious.

Why? Well, there are a bunch of reasons, the main being that they, their parents, and most of the adults around them are seriously adrift in their understanding of identity.

The adolescents are searching for a sense of value while the parents and other adults are often guilty of using adolescents in their own quest for identity.

So, what do we do about all this?

Well, in this post, I’ll share our strategic approach to ministry with adolescents in the hopes that it might be helpful in your ministry or church.

Here’s my goal with students and young adults: To ground their identity in Christ.

I believe this is the one thing that we can focus on that impacts all other things in an adolescent’s life.

I happen to believe that everything we do—what we think, what we believe, what we say, and what we do is impacted by what we believe about ourselves.

A person’s sense of identity is THE thing that affects all other things.

If we can get them to believe that what defines them is not what other people think about them, what they achieve, or how they look, but rather what God thinks about them and what Jesus has done for them, then they will possess a solid foundation on which to build their lives.

Now, of course, this has always been true.

I just believe that this core need is more acutely felt in our culture than possibly ever before.

And, the good news is that the church is uniquely positioned to equip adolescents with better and more solid answers to their questions about identity than anything or anyone else in our culture.

So how do we do it? Here’s our strategic approach:

  1. Identity Building Truth
  2. Identity Building Relationships
  3. Identity Building Experiences

It’s so simple, yet effective

Reaching and discipling students and young adults doesn’t have to be complex or flashy.

The strategy just has to work.

Identity Building Truth

In the Scriptures, we find the most solid answers to life’s most challenging questions.

Questions of identity are the most pressing for today’s adolescents but they aren’t the only questions.

In my opinion, the three biggest questions all people wrestle with are:

  1. Who am I? (Identity)
  2. Where do I fit? (Belonging)
  3. Why do I matter? (Purpose)

God powerfully answers these questions in the Scriptures.

Therefore, the core of any strategy to reach adolescents must always be centered around teaching the Scriptures.

The Scriptures still matter. The Scriptures are still relevant. The Scriptures still transform lives.

Identity Building Relationships

I firmly believe that the most magnetic thing we can offer adolescents and young adults actually costs very little money.

It isn’t a polished and high-tech church program.

It doesn’t require a highly skilled band or intelligent lights.

It’s simply a relationship with an older Jesus follower who loves them and is investing in them.

A mentor might just be the rarest resource in our culture.

Because, in our culture, most students feel like they are being used by adults for their own validation.

An adult who is there for them, and actively investing in them is rare indeed.

If you can build your ministries to adolescents and young adults around mentoring relationships, it’s hard not to win.

How do you do this?

Small groups are a logical solution, but I definitely suggest groups with long-term leaders who are well equipped to function as mentors and spiritual shepherds.

For middle school and high school students - a small group that has the same leader for multiple years is critical.

Long-story short here: You’ll probably need to start investing much more in volunteer leaders.

Identity Building Experiences

I am a big believer in simple structures and simple strategies.

I tend to believe that we should only do stuff that fits with the expressed strategy.

Because of this, the only experiences (events, trips, camps, etc.) that we pursue are experiences that reinforce identity building by focusing on the previous two strategies—identity building truth and identity building relationships.

Here’s what I mean: When we do a camp for our students, it must be small group based and it must include biblical teaching.

When we do an event on Friday night, the goal is that small groups would bond and that the relationships between students and their mentor/leader would grow.

In other words, we don’t just do events for the sake of doing events or because we always have or because so and so thinks we should.

We try to be as strategic as possible around the goal of grounding student’s identity in Jesus.

Every experience is something small groups experience together and or something that reinforces who we are in Christ.

Wrap Up

Let’s wrap this up. Adolescents and young adults, and let’s be honest, most regular adults in our culture are lost in terms of identity.

This sense of who we are and what gives us value—as a culture, we are terribly adrift. Because of this, one of, if not THE greatest, gifts we can give our people is a strong sense of identity built on Jesus.

If this becomes a strategic focus through identity building truth, identity building relationships and identity building experiences, I believe we can lead incredibly effective ministry with adolescents and young adults.

Topics: Advice

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