Evangelicals fear losing their teens

Evangelicals fear losing their teens

In today’s New York Times, we’re told that Evangelicals are warning that fewer and fewer teens are taking their faith lives seriously and are wandering away. I think we’re seeing several things.

For one thing, the focus in Evangelical youth ministry, is often on getting kids to “come to Jesus,” to get saved, a one-time even that’s supposed to have a lifetime effect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. I’ve seen many teens—even ones who seem the strongest Catholics—who wander away from their faith in their late teens and early twenties who later re-discover their faith, usually about the time they get married. That isn’t the ideal way to live your faith, but it’s often the way it is today. Maybe they—and we—should have an approach that focuses more on staying committed.

More importantly, I think it shows the flaws in the Evangelical approach to youth ministry, an approach often copied by Catholics. Too often they focus on the emotional moment of conversion, making the moment when they break down in tears the goal of conversion. But such emotions tend to fade away in the light of morning. When adolescence is a roller-coaster ride of emotion, one particular high or low does not particularly stand out and is quickly left behind. It’s difficult to build a lifelong and all-ecompassing commitment on emotion alone. Of course, emotion is part of it, but careful intellectual and spiritual formation, including a grounding in catechetics and worship, are vital elements as well.

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