What do parents need to know about Christian Youth Groups?

By Steven Tighe

I’ve been working with teenagers in churches for a while—long enough to have seen multiple generations of parents earnestly trying to raise their children to follow Jesus, and long enough to have identified some common mistakes.

I often speak to adults about those mistakes. Most frequently talking about the importance of the Christian youth group for healthy adolescent faith, and I almost can’t count the number of parents who have heard me speak and come up to explain why their kids don’t attend. They have good reasons: “Sports are so important and the team practices are on youth group night,” or “Kids these days have so much homework, and academics have to take precedence over fun,” or “We don’t want to force religion down our teenagers’ throats, we want our children to choose church freely, the way we did,” or “My kids tried youth group and they said they already knew the whole talk and that the other kids are cliquey.” For years I would nod sympathetically and talk about how it was good that they were at least taking their children to church, because that’s important too.

That conversation has a second part, that usually happened two or five or ten years later, when those same parents came in real anguish to ask if I had any advice to help them with their children. Reporting that their kids were no longer attending church, or they were taking drugs, or sleeping with a girlfriend, or moving in with a boyfriend. I’ve lately come to the conclusion that I haven’t done anyone any favors by having tried to be nice in that first conversation.

This article is what I probably should have been saying to those parents all along.

The stark truth is that the number of teenagers who have a real and growing faith and aren’t attending a Christian youth group is vanishingly small. There are some, but to put it bluntly, if you think your teenager is one of these you are very probably wrong.

How can this be? How is it that we, as parents, can be so sure about our teenager’s faith, only to have it seemingly disappear when they get older? I think it starts because when they’re young, our children are so open to our faith. They love having the Bible read to them. They like going to Sunday School. They know all the stories. They seem so entirely open to OUR opinions about Jesus that it’s almost impossible to believe they could change their minds.

But around the time of puberty, things do start to change. One of the biggest changes is that Mom and Dad no longer have such unchallenged influence. Other factors start to matter just as much or more. Those other factors are big reasons that Christian youth groups are so essential to teenage faith.

The three crucial adolescent faith factors

The first factor is the growing influence that other adults (and older children) start to have in their lives: teachers, youth leaders, coaches and others. Teenagers start to seek the attention and approval of adults who are not their parents! If we’re lucky, some of these influential adults are Christians who care about teenagers and attend our churches.

The second group that starts to carry greater influence in the lives of adolescents is their peers. Adolescents are desperately concerned with the opinions of the adolescents around them.
As an illustration, I recently talked to the parent of a teenager in 7th grade. She was well loved and well parented, but her group of school friends had turned on her, blocked her from their social media, and she was distraught, talking seriously about wanting to kill herself. The influence and the affection of her loving parents was dwarfed by the influence of this small group of clueless middle school girls. This isn’t unusual. To an adolescent, the influence of peers is enormous. It’s not surprising that peers, who carry so much influence in other areas, would also have a big influence on a teenager’s faith.

The third critical relationship for healthy adolescent faith is the relationship with God Himself. Kids are highly relational, and those spiritual experiences where they “meet” God, whether it’s because they heard his voice, felt his presence or “just knew” that He loved them, are a major building block in most young people’s Christianity. For the most part, these spiritual experiences occur on retreats, Christian camps, conferences, and mission trips that are part of American youth group life.

It’s these three factors that make youth groups crucial to adolescent faith. For the vast majority of teenagers with a growing Christian faith, their mentors, Christian peers, and powerful spiritual experiences all exist in the context of their Christian youth group.

Sunday church, and Sunday school are important, but not sufficient for the faith of our adolescents, especially when one considers the faith challenges that come from movies, music, and social media. Two hours on Sunday is not enough to equip a teenager to properly interpret the lies and misconceptions of forty hours a week of media!

What about those of us in churches that don’t have youth groups?

There are solid options: First, it doesn’t have to be a youth group at your church. It makes sense to see if any of your teenager’s friends have youth groups at other churches with whom they can attend. Second, the youth group doesn’t even have to be a church youth group, there are some excellent school based Christian youth groups sponsored by organizations such as Young Life and Youth For Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and others. Check with your child’s school to see if any of those ministries are available.

One final suggestion, if you have your children attending another organization’s youth group it’s important to have them connected with non-parental adult mentors from your church. Find someone from your church willing to meet with your child once a week to read the Bible together. This is the heart of the Young Anglican’s “Engage” program (younganglicans.com). Talk to your priest or bishop about having the Engage Training in your church or diocese.

Steven Tighe is a member of the Board of Directors for the Young Anglicans Project. He serves as Director of La Frontera Youth Ministry Education. For questions or more information, feel free to contact Steven Tighe at steven.tighe@anglicanchurch.net.

Lectionary Inserts for Sundays now available

The Anglican Church in North America has entered into an annual license agreement with Crossways, the publisher of the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible [ESV], which permits the duplication of the inserts without any further license or cost to the local congregation. The sub-committee on Collects, Calendars and Lectionaries of the provincial Liturgy Task Force identified a graphic designer in Colorado, Catherine Hoemke of Coffee Shop Creative, to undertake the work that is eventually envisioned to include all the propers for Years A, B, and C, as well as for major feast and fasts, and all red-letter days.

“This is a wonderful development in the rolling-out of the Book of Common Prayer (2019),” said Archbishop Robert Duncan, chair of the Liturgy and Common Worship Task Force.  “We hope the lectionary inserts—available both in 8 ½ x 11 inch single-fold and in large-print versions—will be of great service to both congregations and worshippers across the Anglican Church and even beyond.”

Inserts for the month of June are currently available, and more inserts will be added soon. 

Click here to find the inserts on the Liturgy page under “Additional Resources and Translations.”

How an evangelical church planter discovered freedom in liturgy

As the music worship leader of Andy Stanley’s evangelical mega-church outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Eddie Kirkland had an influential and powerful platform from which to grow and share his ministry. And he left it all to plant a church. An Anglican church.

The son of a Florida pastor, Eddie grew up with worship music in his DNA. As a young man, it was a privilege for him to lead worship and be on staff at Andy Stanley’s North Point Community Church for more than five years. During that time, Eddie took strides toward his dream of creating a presence in the Christian music marketplace. Yet, as that dream was coming to fruition, he was surprised to realize that it was not what he wanted. He enjoyed the music, but what he truly loved was working with people and helping them find freedom in Christ.

Overwhelmed one day by a sense of God’s calling, Eddie went home to tell his wife and two young kids that it was time to leave his comfortable position and venture out into the unknown. His wife, Danielle, responded with support and wisdom, “I’m behind you 100%,” she said, “But you need to talk to Jesus, because I need you to have a plan.” And so his journey to becoming an Anglican church planter began.

During his college years, Eddie had taken a semester to study in England. While there, he worshipped at several Anglican churches, including Christ Church Cathedral. The liturgy stirred something deep in his heart. Even as he returned to his evangelical roots and began his work at North Point, Eddie continued to feel the pull toward Anglicanism. He purchased a Book of Common Prayer and began practicing the Daily Office.

The day after he told his wife about his call to leave North Point, Eddie had a meeting with prolific Christian songwriter, Graham Kendrick.  As it turned out, Graham had just come from a meeting with Anglican worship leaders in Pittsburgh and they bonded over their shared interest in Anglican worship. Immediately following their meeting, Eddie received a response email from a member of the church planting team at Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO). As it turned out, that person had grown up in Atlanta and wanted to meet. Shortly thereafter, a close friend stopped by Eddie’s office in order to set up an introduction with friends he’d wanted Eddie to meet for some time. Incidentally, those friends had planted an Anglican Church in Atlanta.

All along the road, God continued to confirm his calling while drawing Eddie to the Anglican Church. And what attracted Eddie so strongly to Anglicanism, was the freedom and simplicity found in the sacraments. As an Anglican priest, he was still a worship leader, but now in a very different framework. The fact that the “success” of the worship service did not sit on his shoulders was incredibly liberating. The Gospel would be preached through the Word, the liturgy, the sacraments, and God’s grace poured out. There was no dependence on Eddie’s musical performance or otherwise.

Eddie planted a church just outside of Atlanta in Alpharetta, Georgia with the Diocese of C4SO in partnership with the Diocese of the South. It is known simply as, The Parish, and primarily attended by young families from the local suburbs.  Most of his members do not come from an Anglican background and many have been “de-churched” in the midst of the fast-paced lifestyle of the local community. But there is something about the simple and deliberate nature of the Anglican liturgy that appeals to them. Just as it did to Eddie.