Today’s approach of “entertaining youth in the name of evangelism” has failed miserably in churches. Could there be a better way to reach our young people to keep them from leaving the church?
Roger Mantel is the pastor of River Valley Community Church in Aurora, Indiana, a few miles from the Creation Museum. He is known in the area for his strong stand on the authority of Scripture. Pastor Mantel’s wife Christy has used her experience in youth ministry to help AiG develop a new Sunday school program, Answers Bible Curriculum.
In this guest column, Pastor Mantel looks at strategic ways in which churches can better equip their young people with answers to show that the Christian faith is reasonable—and at the same time, help stem the tide of a large youth exodus from our churches.
What can we do with young people today in order to keep youth in church and effectively teach them biblical truths? Recently, I’ve noticed that this topic has been on the minds of many concerned Christian leaders as they read surveys revealing the disappointing news that the way we’ve been doing youth ministry in our churches is often producing disastrous results. Today’s approach of “entertaining youth in the name of evangelism” has failed miserably in churches. Could there be a better way to reach our young people to keep them from leaving the church?
My wife and I met while ministering together on a year-long mission team that reached out to teens through music and drama. We found great joy ministering to teens who were searching for meaning in their lives. Many years (and three children) later, I found myself unable to shake God’s call to youth ministry. With children of my own, my desire was even greater to reach lost youth and point them to the Savior.
Soon the Lord opened a door for me to serve in a church with only a few teens attending. With no special training in youth ministry, I knew that one thing to do rather than entertaining young people would be to train them in the ways of the Lord. For nearly ten years, I ministered to teens by teaching the Bible and encouraging them to live out what they were learning.
As I read Ken Ham’s co-authored book, Already Gone, I wanted to shout the good news that it is possible to have an effective youth ministry in our churches. I have seen the positive results of teaching youth a solid foundation of biblical truth. I believe it is possible to reach youth and keep them in the pews. And the successful method we used fell right in line with Ken’s conclusions.
As I read the information in Already Gone, I couldn’t help but think about the teen Bible study we started at our first church. It grew from just two students to 18. What drew them? It was a simple verse-by-verse study of the Old and New Testaments, practical application, basic apologetics, and leaders who genuinely cared about them and modeled a lifestyle consistent with a biblical worldview. They didn’t realize it, but our youth were getting trained in basic Bible interpretation (“hermeneutics”) and apologetics as we studied Scripture verse by verse.
The teens who attended that study are now in their middle 20s. I am thrilled to keep up with them through the Internet and note their continued passion for Christ and His Word. An overwhelming percentage of them still attend church. Most have become involved in ministering to others themselves, through church leadership, mission teams, and even seminary. What some would have called a boring, straightforward youth ministry has generated multiple workers to labor with us in the harvest.
In our second church, we had a similar experience. The teens that had been used to an entertainment-based youth group found great joy in learning how to study the Bible in depth. I’ll never forget showing them a DVD with Ken Ham speaking and my shock at their response. For a year we had been teaching them about the authority of Scripture. Yet after listening to Ken speak, they voiced their doubts about the Genesis account of creation. Drawn to truth, however, they chose to hear more from Ken the next week and then the next. Over and over, we have seen the truth of God’s Word excite teens who are hungry to make sense of life.
Those teens in that church are in their late teens and early 20s now. I’m thrilled with a good report. Nearly all of those young people are faithfully serving the Lord and are active in leadership in their churches. Several are already in full-time ministry. Praise the Lord!
Although I’m a senior pastor now, I am still an advocate of healthy youth ministry.1 Our youth group and Sunday school classes emphasize the authority of Scripture, the study of both the Old and New Testaments as historical truth, creation apologetics, and the practical application of Bible truths in our daily lives. When biblical truths are presented to a spiritually hungry generation, suddenly the Bible comes to life, and the world begins to make sense!
As we continue to teach the authority of Scripture starting with Genesis, I am convinced that we are helping to establish a strong biblical foundation that will keep our youth from abandoning the church. I have seen firsthand young people who have been trained in basic hermeneutics and apologetics, and who are mentored by caring leaders who live what they teach. Not only do they stay in the church, but they are becoming Christian leaders who are excited about teaching the next generation the truth of God’s Word.