Short cuts are always enticing. I still use the F-keys for many functions on my computer because I find it easier to jump a finger up to the row of F-keys rather than take my hand off the keyboard and onto the mouse and then moving the mouse around to find the icon to click to get what I want done. But I am old. My point is not. We are always curious about short cuts. The problem is that many things have no short cuts.
We keep studying why we do not do a better job of retaining youth in the Church. We are fixated on the idea that there is a short cut. Some say the short cut is substituting a guitar or electric bass for the pipe organ. Others say it is singing songs in worship that sound like the play lists on the phones of our youth instead of the dirges we call hymns. Still others insist that it means dropping the challenging moral and ethical stances that conflict with the direction of society and the cultural milieu in which our youth find themselves. None of those are the F-keys to retaining youth. Instead it is the uncommon common wisdom that everyone knows but few invest with confidence.
How can we retain our youth? How can we keep them in high school, sustain them in college, and help them grow into a mature faith as young adults? It is really not so mysterious.
Youth who remain in the faith and in the Church come from homes in which they have:
Wow! Survey says. . . grow up in a home where mom and dad and siblings believe, pray, and worship together regularly and often. . . talk about the faith. . . stay connected to Sunday school and Bible study. . . know well a pastor (the same pastor) during their transition from youth to young adults. . .be close to their home church and through a ministry/congregation during college. Did we not know this? Really?
- parents who actively believe and live out the faith;
- a family in worship nearly every Sunday together in the pew;
- healthy relationships in which they matters of faith and morality are discussed openly and honestly;
- continued in Sunday school and/or Bible study;
- a pastor who has given them solid pastoral care;
- a pastor who has been there for the long haul during their youth and young adulthood (another shout out for longer pastorates);
- connected with other LCMS youth at larger gatherings, district events, and/or Lutheran camps;
- remained geographically closer to their home church and moved around less;
- been involved in LCMS campus ministry (either at a Concordia University, another LCMS congregation, or campus ministry) during college.
Short cuts are often great, sometimes not so short at all, and sometimes detours. Sometimes the best route is to follow the normal directions to get to your destination. Nowhere is this more true than with youth ministry. We do not need to invent a new program but to do what we know will help our youth grow up in the faith and in the life of Christ while at home and continue that growth during college.
I don't know about your parish, but in mine I see these families in the pews every Sunday and their youth are not only faithful but invested in the faith and in the life of the Church -- so much so that many of them bring their friends with them to Church regularly and often. Perhaps we need to admit that one of the primary keys to the continued faith and Christian life of our youth IS the strength of the family, its connection to the Church, and the faith of the parents. Family matters, folks. It really does. Perhaps the best thing we can do for our youth is to help strengthen our families in the faith and in the life of the Church.
Finally, one more thing. It is too obvious but not so much so that it should not be said. The Word works. Preach it faithfully. Where the Word of God is preached faithfully and where the Gospel is central and where the liturgy is reverent and the music reinforces the Word, God IS at work through His Spirit. Don't discount the obvious in search of the hidden.