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Make youth disciples, not attenders, he urges


GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–A car, a job, school athletics and a group of friends who like to hang out together can make a church youth program a low priority for today’s teenager.

Youth ministry should focus on discipling youth as well as influencing youth influencers to disciple them, according to Sean Keith, a consultant for the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Bible teaching-reaching division.

Youth ministers should plan now for the scores of teenagers who need to be reached in the future, he said, making disciples instead of attenders.

“Youth ministry is taking the vision God has given you and inspiring and leading parents, teachers and leaders, as well as youth,” Keith said at Rec Lab ’97, Feb. 21-26, at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center.

“Our world has changed, but people have not. Their basic needs are still the same.” Keith said youth tend to drop out of church at about age 16 because a newfound lifestyle built around cars, work, sports and school makes participation in church activities “a choice.”

Boredom and peer pressure also lead some to choose something other than church, he added.

Helping volunteer leaders to disciple youth, regardless of the church program they lead, is the key to building an appealing youth program, he said.

“What objectives do you have for your youth from the time they enter the program until the time they leave?” he asked youth ministers.

Keith said the question youth ask, many times only to themselves, is, “Does Christianity work?” They know they are supposed to read the Bible, pray and be faithful in church attendance, but they want to know why, he continued.

“Look at what works in your church,” he advised. “Think through why you have the church programs you offer today.”

Almost all Southern Baptist churches — 96 percent — have youth Sunday school classes. Approximately 70 percent have youth discipleship training. While missions education for youth has declined for the past two decades, youth involvement in mission projects continue to grow. Youth choir programs are strong in churches with the resources to offer them.

Keith asked youth ministers to consider what they would offer youth if they had only four hours a week, including worship services.

Make a concerted effort to focus also on the needs of parents of youth, he said. Communicate what is going on in the youth program, and communicate your passion for that, he emphasized. Visiting youth in their homes and meeting some parents who may not be involved in church is a way to give youth attention and carry out the work of the church, he said.

Rec Lab ’97 was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s church recreation program.
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  • Charles Willis