At one time during my early high school years, a friend invited me to a new youth group she had started attending, maybe because of a boyfriend, I don’t exactly remember. It was almost an hour away from home, and I remember feeling really cool whenever I got to go. The room was always dark, and there was a rock band. The youth pastor was probably around 40, and it seemed to me like he was trying really hard to be relatable by wearing skinny jeans and calling everybody “dude”. I remember I thought one of the boys in the band was cute, and I also remember hoping that my parents never asked for too many details when I got home, because I knew it wouldn't be very hard for them to figure out that my intentions were more focused on cute boys than spiritual growth. I can not remember a single Biblical lesson I learned from that youth group.
In my youth group now, there is no rock band. We don’t have a youth pastor like some bigger churches, we have a youth leader that really cares about us and makes us a priority. I think the difference between my youth group now and the youth groups I have attended in the past is that we are not being taught a watered down brand of Christianity that allows us to feel like we can be Christians and still be what our society considers cool. Instead, we are being taught how to be strong Christians in spite of a society that tells us that is the most uncool thing we could be. Recently when I searched the phrase “youth group” on Pinterest, the first suggestion that came up as I was typing was “youth group games.” My youth leader loves games more than anyone I have ever met, but even so, they are mostly reserved for special events like lock-ins. During our regular Thursday night meetings, we do some serious learning. We recently read through 1 John (Not to be confused with just regular John, or John 2 or John 3!) and discussed it verse by verse. We are now doing the same study that my adult Sunday school class is doing, and the insights these youth have about it are impressive.
As a person who is getting an unlikely second chance to experience youth group with a more adult perspective, If I could tell the world one thing about the importance of youth group, it would be this. Don’t assume that youth have nothing to offer the church, and don’t assume that the church has nothing to offer them. One thing we talk about a lot in our youth group is priorities, and these young people are already making their faith a priority by showing up after a long day of school and sports practice, many nights knowing there is still homework to be done. That's not an easy thing to do, even for adults, and I give them credit.
Another thing I would say is that young people do not need to be tricked into following Jesus with elaborate games and flashy bands. I know this for a fact because every Thursday night, at our little church in the middle of nowhere, a group of young people gather and have honest discussions about the God we follow. No rock bands, just a mismatched group of teenagers and a dedicated leader who are choosing to make our faith a priority in a world full of distractions.
We trust teenagers every day to make many decisions that will affect their futures, like where they will go to college and what career they will pursue, but when the future becomes the present and they are adults with jobs and families and the worries that come with living in this unstable world, they will discover that even the most solid career doesn't guarantee happiness or security, and it most certainly doesn't guarantee eternal life. Only faith in God can do that, and that is why I adamantly believe in the importance of helping our youth develop a solid faith that can withstand the temptations and dangers of the world they will live in. I don't want them to face this cruel world without a solid foundation of faith, and it would be irresponsible of me not to do everything I can to help them build that faith. We don't have to worry about being cool, there's no time for that. We just need to love our youth now, because right now is the only time that is guaranteed. You don't need a rock band, and a stuffy upstairs room with a few beanbags works just as well as a giant auditorium. Youth don't need to be tricked or begged, they just need to know that someone cares. If you build it, they will come.