What’s wrong with young people today? We’ve all heard about the symptomatic things that may characterize today’s teenagers, such as lower church attendance. But what’s underneath these trends?
For many young people, it’s a suffocating sense of loneliness and isolation.
“This is the most lonely generation,” said Josh Packard, sociologist and author of Church Refugees. Packard is compiling results from a new study through Springtide Research Institute for Religion and Young People.
Packard’s research found that two-thirds of the young population are connected to a house of worship. So, anyone might assume that these lonely young people would naturally find relief from their isolation at church. That may be a faulty assumption. Packard says on this week’s Holy Soup podcast that young people’s connection to a church seems to have no impact on how lonely they feel. “Attendance alone is not a protective factor against social isolation,” he says.
How can this be? Part of the problem may exist within the dominant model employed at church and youth groups. It’s a presentational model. The communication flows predominantly from the person at the front with a microphone. The lonely individuals sit quietly while someone else does all the talking. Conversation is not emphasized.
Packard said that “nearly 40 percent of kids report that they have no one to talk to, and attending religious groups or gatherings does not have an effect, unless they have a relationship with an adult who cares.”
This new research should encourage all of us to rethink how we structure our ministries. Now, more than ever, it’s time to engage people in fully relational approaches to ministry. And it’s not only a matter of addressing loneliness. It’s a matter of mission and message. Packard said, “If you don’t have relationship, you can’t assume they believe anything you say.”
Hear more about the findings in the Holy Soup podcast here:
I question the 2/3 connection to a house of worship. Time to take a walk around the local mall, check out fast food places, the community centre, YMCA, sports center or in smaller communities the local gathering place for teens.
I loved youth group in the 70’s; it was my lifeline and what brought me into true relationship with Jesus. I assumed my own kids would love it too. My daughter did, it was designed perfectly for her. My son hated it. He liked the worship, where he played bass guitar in the worship band. He hated the games, and that was a huge portion of the weekly gathering. He told me he enjoyed the group discussions, but as a deep critical thinker, was disappointed more teens didn’t think critically and share their thoughts. He has not been back to church since graduating from high school, and his college friends (now 30-something) are all the same…kids that went to youth group because they had to, but hated it, and are agnostic at best. There has to be a better way to get them truly involved, and not just audience members.
This is not surprising. Most churches isolate the young– in their youth programs, their Sunday Schools, etc. Kids understand that a peer is pretty unreliable as a friend. Other kids similarly lack the power, the wisdom, the finances, etc to really be able to help each other. Sunday morning worship is ‘for the older adults’ mostly. Kids are sent somewhere else and then given the same stuff (but dumbed down) that they ‘miss/avoid’ by not attending with adults and parents. Kids long for, need and are hungry for relationships with adults whom they can respect and who are not their own parents.
We ‘know’ they don’t do well with a one-way monologue, so we isolate them and give them a one-way monologue. Why are we surprised?
Generally the Anglican Churches in Australia are geared for the older middle aged respectable adults. Modern music and such not really relevant. The Organ restoration fund and the Old Building Restoration fund and Superanuation for wealthy Priests is about as good as it gets!!!!
Interesting. the word ‘respectable’ hmmm. didn’t the Lord hand around with the disrespectable, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, divorced, beggars, lepers et al. the shunned and the respectable church people were a tad bothered by this. Churches advertise ‘all welcome’. However there are some exceptions! I remember one parish i served in and a local ‘living in sin’ couple showed up and the elders were upset. Hmmm? Good luck KevP
The Lord didn’t hang around with the dis-respectable, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, divorced, beggars, lepers et al.
Jesus only went into a place where he was invited. Only one case do you find that he invited himself and that was Zacheus who was already up in the tree wanting to see Jesus.
The people came to Jesus.
Yes the churches do advertise “All welcome.”
I have seen some incidents where some were not welcome, but usually after the person caused a disturbance.
If you go to an Assembly of God church you will be welcome.
The Young People feelings of being alone are shared also by adults. It is hard to communicate to a person who suffers the same thing.
Now for the most part our churches have got too large in numbers. This creates a mode for loneliness.
The minister preaches these feel good sermons but they do not lift you up because for the most part there is no nourishment in them like eating a chocolate candy bar. Give you a short burst of energy and then you crash again.
The society has created the atmosphere for a loneliness with the electronic gadgets that we have.
For the most part of my life I attended churches that at the most would have 100 people in attendance on a Sunday morning.
But the young people would gather on many Sunday afternoons at one of there houses and have a fun time playing basketball, volleyball, or baseball..
On Sunday night, they would allow different one to sing and participate besides the song leader and the pastor.
Yes some were not as talented, but they would participate in the service along with the adults.
The people were used and felt like they were needed.
Preachers also preached hellfire also.
Do you see what is missing in our churches?
The churches should be centered around families where you feel needed.
A large church is not centered around families but numbers.
First of all, Thank you Josh Packard for bringing youth to the front. Also, as I read all of the comments so far, I want to say that I am impressed with you all and how your insights really bring out this issue on youth. So thank you all for your comments. So what’s next. We all need to get more involved! Personally, we all need to step in to our house of worships and start praying and obeying what the Lord wants us to do about it. Find out what is needed and start the ball rolling. DON’T sit on the sideline and watch the game. Get on the field and play the game. May God bless you in your ministry as you journey with Him in this endeavor.
Loneliness is a serious problem not just for young people but also for the elderly in our churches for whom it a significant health risk ( see the Washington Post (WP)January 13th Health and Science section, “We volunteer to help others but research shows how much it helps us “)
“Chronic loneliness increases mortality risk about as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”( WP) . That’s pretty scary stuff .
I have been working with our youth in our church for the last 20 years .Teaching Middle School Sunday School and helping with the Youth Group. Two years ago I took on the job as Director of Youth Ministries . We have about 100 youth from 13- 18 in our program with about 30 very active.and the rest occasionally engaged.. It’s all about relationships . Our relationship to God and to our youth and their relationship with each other and to God . Each and every youth needs to be known , respected and listened to It takes time to change a culture that isolated the youth in their own bubble but we are gradually bringing more and more youth into the community of the whole church
We have done that by first reminding the congregation of their baptismal vows that they take every time we baptist a new baby . And ask them “How is it going ? We have youth participate in the regular service by acolyting , reading lessons and the prayers of the people , singing in our choisters and serving as Eucharistic Ministers . Its a really cool experience when a youth you have known since 7th grade gives you Holy Communion. .On Youth Sunday we have three service with a different youth preaching at each. This year we will be taking 21 youth to Puerto Rico on a mission trip , the most ever on our yearly trips..We have a senior rector who is engaged with the youth and known to them and they to him.We have a long way to go, especially on intergenerational relationships, but we are making some progress.. Thank you for highlighting youth issues .
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