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Keeping teen-agers in church

By Jo Ellen Cramer Nicholson

Lesson 1
When I was young, the only time we ever had ice cream was on the way home from church on Sunday nights. What a delight to choose any flavor I wanted. As a child, I started to associate going to church with a very pleasant experience — getting an ice-cream cone.

Years later as a young couple, my husband Joe and I continued the practice of positive reinforcement with our children. Not far from our church a hospital had huge fountains with colored lights. On our way home from church we would often take our children to the fountains to let them run around the edges near the sparkling, spraying water. Their squeals of delight disclosed their pleasure and excitement. Other than the frequent visits to the fountain following Sunday evening church services, we rarely did this activity. They also got an ice-cream cone almost every Sunday after church.

The form of the positive reinforcement varies as children reach their teens, but remains effective.

Lesson 2
In our family, church attendance was not an option. On Mondays, my dad never asked, "Am I going to work today?" The children never asked, "Am I going to school today?" Likewise on Sundays, the question, "Are we going to church today?" never came up. It was Sunday; the entire household went to church. If that pattern is established early in life, teen-agers are less likely to question "to go" or "not to go."

Parents should not panic when they hear, "Do I have to go to church today?" It doesn’t necessarily mean your child no longer loves the Lord, nor should there be a tirade about the importance of church attendance. Say, "As long as you live at home, we will all attend church together on Sunday."

When giving important messages to teen-agers, the fewer words used, the better.

Lesson 3
When driving home after church, do not criticize the service. Finding weaknesses and problems is much easier than coming up with solutions. Nothing ever completely satisfies us as adults. But negative opinions are best kept to oneself; certainly, they should not be expressed in front of children or teen-agers. Young people have difficulty sifting out the good from the bad. If some of it is bad, to them the whole is bad. That is the concrete thinking of children.

Once my daughter said, "Mom, I never know all the bad stuff that goes on at church like some of my friends do." I told her if she ever had a question about what she heard to come to me and I would tell her the truth the best I could.

Lesson 4
Parents, make your home inviting to teen-agers. My husband and I lived just a few miles from church. When we first started looking for a home, we told the real estate agent we must live on the same side of town our church is on. It worked well for our family.

You have only five short years to keep each of your teen-agers in church (ages 13-18). It is so important during these years to keep your home teen friendly. This probably is not the time to buy new carpet or fine furniture. The home needs to be a place where teens will relax and have fun. We often had 50 teen-agers in our small home after Sunday night service. Nothing fancy. Teens love pizza, popcorn or cookies.

Teens also love to be bunched up and crowded. There were spills on the carpet; a favorite rocking chair was broken. Yet, they are joyous memories.

As a youth, I attended a small Assemblies of God church. There was no youth pastor. But a precious, loving adult (Alice May Dye), who taught our teen Sunday school class, had us in her home almost every Friday night for popcorn, games and a devotional.

When the teens are all at your house you never have to worry about where your teens are.

Lesson 5
Youth camps, choir camps and other special camps are an important element of keeping teens in church. After youth camp, many teens report that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Camps are a time for youth to dedicate themselves more thoroughly to God. Many have been called to specific types of service for our Lord at youth camps. It is during the ages 13-18 that many decide to go to Bible school to become missionaries or ministers.

Lesson 6
The local church shares the responsibility for keeping teen-agers in church. Teen-agers love to be active. They have a deep need to belong to a group. What better group to be identified with than a church youth group?

The local church is strengthened when it offers varied activities for youth. Youth leaders need energy, vigor and intensity coupled with patience and persistence. Some teens who cannot excel at Bible quiz will be superior in a puppet ministry or in musical activities. One youth group I know visits a nursing home every Friday night and has a sing-a-long with the residents. Everyone benefits — nursing home patients, the youth and the church they represent. The nursing home now serves pizza and ice cream after their activity.

Youth activities should be more than just fun and games. Churches need to find creative ways to involve teens in ministry — making sandwiches for the homeless, adopting a grandparent, doing chores for shut-ins. Teens need to learn the joy of giving and doing for others.

Sunday school lessons and youth night sermons should be directed at helping teens face the issues they are dealing with at home and school. Teens need to be taught how to apply the teachings of Jesus. The Bible addresses delicate issues: Homosexuality is sin; sex outside of marriage is wrong; abortion — taking a life — is forbidden; gossip can be worse than murder; criticizing is evil.

Lesson 7
If teens are to remain involved in church, they must feel loved and accepted. Is the atmosphere in your church one where teens may feel they are constantly being criticized by the older generation? To be a teen is to be finding out who you are. Their clothes and hairstyles are ways they have of making a statement of independence. So teens look different from their elders. Yesterday it was long hair and bell-bottom pants. Today it is baggy pants and logo shirts. Tomorrow it may be frayed jeans and shaved heads.

But the eyes remain the same. Look into their eyes as I did last night at church. Those of us over 50 formed a line and had the teens pass in front of us. We were to lay our hands on them and pray for them. When I looked into their faces and their eyes, not much has changed. Many came with tears rolling down their cheeks wanting God’s leading. Some came very shyly, eyes downcast, not sure of themselves. Some were almost expressionless. Yet they all came. They wanted to be prayed for; they welcomed a hug; they needed to be accepted and appreciated.

The challenge to the current adult generation is to make our churches a place where a teen — any teen (even with green hair, earrings, baggy pants) — will feel the love of Jesus Christ. The way to keep today’s teen in church is to fill it with love. Teens recognize the real thing. Money spent on pizza, pop and ice cream is well invested. Then teach them; involve them. Utilize their talents in worship, in ministry, in outreach. Help them to associate the church with pleasant times where they are taught how to live in today’s world.

Teen involvement in church means parent involvement in church. Every activity mentioned takes volunteer time. One person cannot conduct all of these activities; it takes a team. None of these teen activities just happen. They take time, effort and planning.

Soon, should the Lord tarry, today’s teens will be our youth pastors, our pastors and our church leaders.

Pray for the teen-agers you know. Ask the Lord to build a wall of protection about them. Ask Him to guide them in every activity. Prayer changes things; prayer changes teens.

Jo Ellen Cramer Nicholson is a retired nurse. She lives in Springfield, Mo.

From Family: How To Have a Healthy Christian Home (Springfield, Mo: Pentecostal Evangel Books, 1999). Reprinted with permission. To order copies of this book at $5.99 each, please call 1-800-641-4310 and ask for item # 02KS1034.


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