Tweens and Faith, a battle we cannot afford to lose…
“In matters related to style, swim with the current, in matters of principle, stand like a rock” Thomas Jefferson –
Current Christian and social research has confirmed that 90% of American kids will form their lifelong values and beliefs before the end of their thirteenth year. That means if you’re pre-teen or tween (ages 7-13) has not made a faith commitment to Christ before the end of their eighth grade year… there is a 1 in 10 chance they ever will. Multiple recent Christian and Secular social studies have shown the devastating impact of this reality… 88-90% of college bound students leave the Church never to return.
From Fox News, USA Today, CNN and the New York Times, experts are noting the tremendous changes occurring in our current tween populations. Identity crisis common in adolescents is raging into grades 4,5 and 6 much earlier than previous generations. Secular companies (Viacom, GE, Toyota, Apple, Disney, Revlon etc..) are targeting tweens as “decision makers” in their homes. Mainstream marketing has directly focused on pre-teens for marketing campaigns designed to make “consumers for life”. Mainstream corporate America has responded much faster than the church as a whole.
They have a much stronger conviction to reach this age group with their truth, than most Christians do. The principles of belief formation are clearly believed by secular companies as they regularly invests billions in their ad campaigns used to engage and convince tweens their products will change their lives for the better.
It’s clear the body of Christ is in need of a “wake up” call. Parents, pastors and teachers are all beginning to notice the lower attendance rates of their younger members. College age ministries are dropping off due to lack of interest and children’s ministries are still focusing on VBS and basic bible stories while the mainstream media is engaging our kids with “Hannah Montana”, “Wizards of Waverly Place” and” i-Carly”. Online Facebook and U-Tube are visited by 90% of pre-teens daily. Current media studies show an average of 48 hours per week for tween kids to consumer media in one form or another. On average, the families of faith based kids spend an hour a week engaged in faith based activities like church or youth group.
When kids do get to church, the pre-teen ministries of most denominations are limited to volunteers who try to entertain or feed the kids into compliance. For serious leaders who are trying to engage this age, finding effective pre-teen middle school Christian teaching resources is hard as very few options are available at all.
Parents are privately struggling with the chaos of the early adolescent in their homes, something we’re seeing in almost every social or economic group today. Children are being bombarded with a variety of media and instant communication technologies that by in large are accelerating the life values and beliefs decision making process before their emotional & physical maturation occurs fully. Kids are simply being “aged” earlier than ever before in our history. Texting is now considered a clinically “addictive” condition, with the average thirteen year old texting 3,000 times a month. Many admit to texting 300 or more times a day!
We believe the time is now to adjust our focus and philosophy for tomorrow. To make a dent in these trends we must intentionally and strategically reach this pre-teen generation with the truth of the Word of God.
Media and entertainment have replaced families, faith and the voice of the Church with false promises of fulfillment and moral relativism… together we can and must make an immediate impact on our pre-teen and teen cultures with a dynamic and relevant message of Hope and Faith in Jesus Christ.
Reference Resources for Concerned Parents and Pastors… http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/403-how-teenagers-faith-practices-are-changing and www.ishineministries.com both sites have great practical links to other faith based parenting blogs and websites ! (Check them out)
Road Trip Parenting… Practical Life Action Steps:
1) Educate yourself on the situation;
– Lifeway Christian Resources has done an extensive study on the beliefs and trends of today’s teen and college students.
– Barna Research Group has repeatedly studied this growing trend of pre-teen and tween faith
– National news groups have run hundreds of articles in the recent ten months reviewing and documenting the media and pre-teen / teen cultural changes in our society.
– Google it – you’ll be surprised by how much is out there.
2) consider your own statistics;
-What has you’re experience been in recent youth and children’s ministry impact?
-Are you seeing the same basic trends as others for loss of active members after 18 yoa?
-Have you noted the changes in tween activities and overall interest in faith based services and events?
-How are you’re families, parents doing with this sudden increase in technology at home?
3) Embrace the problem, rather than isolate;
– Many faith based families will “over-react” to the modern changes of technology – “Don’t”
– Learn to use technology with your events and activities, visual learning is KEY to tweens.
– Music is a critical component of their culture, using modern Christian music is helpful and engaging to tweens who may not be aware such an option even exists.
– Use age appropriate “Sampling” of popular movies, television and u-tube videos to make a values statement in your ministry times.
– Talk about the common “myths” of popular television and film as they relate to tween culture and identity issues.
4) Sponsor a live event or concert to engage the parents and kids with an alternative for their entertainment and your weekly youth ministry.
Several Options exist:
– J12 ministries does a weekend event for the whole church (Jesus at 12)
– CiY – (Christ in Youth) does a national tour in the spring for churches
– Deliberate Kids works with 8 yoa and younger audiences
– Go Fish – work with 3-8 yoa kids with basic bible truths
-iShine Live – engages tweens and teens ages 7-14 with a Disney style concert and ministry event.
5) create content if you can’t find it.
– Instead of ignoring the problem, find interesting information and create simple studies from media content you have personally reviewed –
– Engage your kids with facebook, u-tube and Myspace by adding your children’s ministry or youth group to the social online world. BLOG!
– Go missional – active participation in faith building activities is a “key” component to transfer of faith from one generation to another. Living it vs. studying it!
This is a lengthy post, first given as a lecture presentation in Washington DC in January 2011 to the Salvation Army Youth Leadership forum. Its meant to only serve as a “starting off” point for youth leaders, pastors and concerned parents who need ideas and information to engage this generation for Christ. Blessings to you in your own sphere of influence. For more information or support, contact www.ishinelive.com