We’ve heard the statistics, read the articles, even seen it in our own congregations.
Teens are evacuating. Statistics claim that 70 percent of teens will stop attending church after graduating from high school.
As a teenager who’s grown up in church, I’ve had a front-row seat to this mass exodus. I’m not an expert, researcher, or pastor, but I am in the teenage trenches. There are many reasons for teens to leave the church, from hypocrisy to legalism to peer pressure. Despite these external struggles, I know it doesn’t have to be this way.
Because I’m a teenager. And I’m still in the church.
I’ve wrestled with the same issues many teens claim for walking away. But I’ve had a firm foundation to fall back on: solid teaching and biblical truths that have helped me deal with questions and doubts and grow stronger through the struggle.
Sadly, not every teen has had my experience.
Instead of undiluted biblical truths and concrete theology, many are fed a watered-down message. They’re entertained at youth group and isolated from older, wiser Christ-followers. They’re drawn in with pizza parties, games, and programs, but leave with the burning issues of their hearts still unanswered. The games and good times were never what kept me in church or helped me as I battled the tumultuous struggles of my teenage years. Instead, it was the gospel-drenched truth that kept me coming back.
As I look back on my own life and my interactions with other teens, I’ve discovered four core topics we need to hear that will help us stay strong in God and rooted in the church.
1. We Need to Hear the Bible
Teenagers need the Bible. It contains the answers to our deepest questions, the wisdom for our hardest struggles. Please don’t give us an abridged version. Challenge us to read it for ourselves and model a lifestyle centered on God’s Word. Create an atmosphere of reliance on Scripture that whets our appetite and makes us hungry for more.
2. We Need to Hear About Sin
The church needs to clearly tell teenagers about sin. Not in a bombastic way, but in a loving, firm, biblical manner. Our eyes need to be opened to the fact that sin isn’t a Christianese catch phrase; it’s a reality that shows up in our daily lives.
When we understand the severity of our sin, our desperate need of grace, and that Jesus is the only hope we have, our youth groups will experience a transformation. Only when we’re staring the depth of our sin in the face can the full power of forgiveness and grace be unleashed.
3. We Need to Hear Biblical Truth on Cultural Topics
Teens are saturated in a culture with unbiblical views on topics like abortion, same-sex attraction, pornography, premarital sex, gender identity, suicide, and others. But the church sometimes fails to confront these topics head-on.
Through my work as an editor on a blog for Christian teens, I’ve received numerous emails about topics such as lesbianism and depression. In each email, these teens share their confusion and struggles. Their feelings of shame and cries for help are palpable. I’ve also read article pitches explaining why masturbation, homosexuality, and rebellion are all okay, because God will forgive us anyway. Are these teens confused? Absolutely. Do they need to hear biblical truth? Desperately.
Homosexuality, abortion, and suicide aren’t just shadowy ideas for teens today. They’re personified and real. These issues might show up in their friend across the street, or the new girl at school, or the video they stumble upon on YouTube. Christian teens must have real, honest, and biblical answers for tough questions.
Help them understand what Christians believe and what Scripture says on these hot-button topics. They need to know what they believe and why, because the world will scramble to undermine those beliefs. So please don’t sidestep the truth. Teens are longing for real answers.
4. We Need to Hear about Radical Transformation—and Obedience
When Jesus spoke of salvation, he painted a radical picture. He spoke of being born again—a process so drastic and mind-blowing it changes one’s life (John 3:1–21). He spoke of repentance—turning away from one way of life to embrace an entirely different way (Matt. 5–7.) He spoke of bearing a cross and following Christ to the point of death—giving up everything for the privilege of knowing and loving him (Matt. 16:24–26).
This is the gospel teens need to hear. Teenagers need a gospel and a theology that will outlast shifting sands and temporal feelings. We need to build our house on the rock of Jesus Christ—or we’ll never survive the storms life throws at us (Matt. 7:24–27).
Following Jesus isn’t easy. As we learn what Scripture says about issues we daily face, we have to make hard choices. Will we be obedient, or will we compromise? Will we stand firm and risk our reputation and our friends, or will we slowly slide?
That’s why the church needs to strengthen and resource teenagers, challenging them to go to Scripture, equipping them for ministry, and teaching them solid theology. These are the things we need in order to light a churchwide, teenage revival of passion for Christ.
Please, hear the heart of a teen. Don’t be afraid to tackle the topics we need to hear, even if they’re hard and unpopular, even if they go against the culture, and even if it seems like we don’t want to listen.