March 1, 2016

5 Truths We’re Keeping from Our Youth Groups

by Jordan Standridge

When I do campus evangelism, I often start the conversation this way: “What are two reasons you stopped going to church?” I’ve asked hundreds of students that question, and the most common responses make me think that church youth groups have failed dramatically.

I understand that every human being is responsible for their own sin, and that even the best of youth groups will have students that fall between the cracks. But the fact of the matter is that too many pastors have believed the lie that teenagers cannot handle certain truths. They have accepted the culture’s belief that today’s teenagers’ attention span has shortened, and that their ability to comprehend deep truths has dissipated.

Whether you’re a parent or a youth pastor, you have to understand that adapting to the culture is something that pagans do. The Church is called to be counter-culture, and we must, despite what the world tells us and sadly what many fellow Christians tell us, stay faithful to Scripture and teach the whole counsel of God. So here are five truths that most teenagers (christian or not) are not being taught, that we must teach, in order to have a Biblical youth group.

Teach them about their depravity

Most parents want the best for their children. They make it their mission to make sure their children live the best life possible. Their greatest desire is to have their children be healthy, successful and happy.

For some reason, what goes hand-in-hand with this, is difficulty assigning blame to their children for almost anything. Seeing dozens of feuds between students over the years has proven this to be the case. Parents generally if not always take their children’s side. Very rarely will they admit any fault. If their children do get in trouble, they end up blaming other influences. If there is no one else to blame, than they blame it on the brain or on some kind of neurological/chemical imbalance issue. Most kids have been trained to blame-shift.

The Bible doesn’t allow for this. Adam and Eve in the garden attempted to blame shift and God not only didn’t allow it but also punished them severely for their sin (Genesis 3:9-19). James in James 4:1-4 also blames our own hearts for our fights writhing the church.

We must teach them to own-up to their sin. Because ultimately, one day when they stand before God (hebrews 9:27) they will not be able to blame their friends, they will not be able to blame their brains, they will not be able to blame their parents, but they will only be able to blame themselves for their sin. We must teach the greatest war they will face, will be within their own hearts because of their great sinfulness.

Teach them about Death

casketNo one ever thinks about death! It’s like the elephant in the room of every Gospel conversation. We have trained our minds to avoid the subject and to focus on this tiny, short life.

Most young people have never attended a funeral in their lives, and by the time they’re in college their hearts are so hardened that they could care less about their own death.

Solomon in Ecclesiastes is constantly reminding the reader about their death. It’s as if he is popping the bubble of every single millennial in the world today. Children are told, that they can be anything they want to be, that they can change the world, that they are special and unique. Solomon reminds us about two simple facts: you are going to die and in the big scheme of things no one will remember you.

I can almost picture what he is saying. Your funeral is around the corner, and 25-2000 people will gather to sing a few of your favorite songs and talk about you for an hour. On the drive home your grandson will shout, “I’m hungry!” After a pit stop at taco bell, and a couple arguments and fights, if people haven’t forgotten about you yet they will once they have to use the bathroom after eating the loaded burrito. Perhaps, you have a great family and they might remember you for a few decades, but let me ask you do you know anything about your great-grandparents?

7 Billion people on earth know nothing about their great-grandparents, and yet we tell our children how special they are and how they will change the world. We must be truthful with our kids. Only then will they see their need for Christ and live lives that actually matter and can make an eternal impact.

Teach them to love like Christ did
Love is validation. Love is being non-judgmental. Love is accepting people for who they are and never pointing out any flaw in your friends. Students everywhere are being told these things and are encouraged to surround themselves only with “positive people”. “Yes-men” and women who will never question anything they do.

In fact, many psychologists tell their patients to do away with negative people. To surround themselves with people who will develop their self-esteem. jesus healingThis in turn teaches teenagers to only be around people who accept them. Not only does it shun them from people who would speak truth to them, but also it teaches them to not love those who are different. It trains them to have a selfish mindset in relationships.

Jesus loved us despite the fact that he couldn’t get anything in return. We could not offer him anything, only our sin. And yet he humbled himself and took the form of a slave in order to serve his murderers. We must imitate Him. We must be counter-cultural in this and teach our youth groups to love the unlovable, to love the outcast. To include those who are rough around the edges. We must go out of our way to encourage others in the Church.

So many young people in our churches think that they are too smart, too wise and too cool to go out of their way to serve and to encourage other people. We must teach our youth to get out of their comfort zones and to love and reach out to others unlike them.

Teach them how to evangelize

What is obvious is the fact that none of these students have ever shared the Gospel before. My second question after finding out where they attended Church growing up is, “what is the Gospel?”

No one has been able to answer this question. Especially those who said they grew up in the Church. Some, even tell me that they used to be an evangelist like me but no longer believe, and yet are incapable of telling me what they would go around and say while “evangelizing”.

We must teach our youth groups the Gospel. They need to know that the holiness of God is part of the Gospel. They need to know that you haven’t shared the good news unless you’ve explained the bad news that man is depraved and is on their way to hell. You cannot share the Gospel unless you explain why Jesus had to be fully God and fully man, live a perfect life, died on the cross and rose from the dead. And they must know that the Gospel is not preached unless the person being preached to is called to repent and believe!

All these are essential components of the Gospel and we must teach our youth groups this fact. We must hire youth pastors that actually evangelize. We must take the students out and do evangelism with them. I have met too many college students who have never shared the Gospel before. Someone needs to train these students to give their life away and to have the Gospel on their lips at all times.

Teach them Doctrine through long, biblical sermons

mosh pitMany youth groups have bought the seeker sensitive lie. They make their youth-groups into huge parties, they fill the room with unbelievers and after loads of games they sing a few man-centered songs and teach a feel-good message. While it does get non-Christians in the doors of the Church, the actual Christians who attend do not grow.

Most students I talk to on the various campuses have never heard a sermon longer than 20 minutes. When I tell them that we teach the Bible verse by verse, most say that they’ve never heard of such a thing before, and agree that if you believe the Bible to be God’s Word that it would be the wisest approach.

When you teach through all of Scripture you expose your teenagers to the whole counsel of God. And believe it or not they can handle it. Just last week I preached four, forty-five minute sermons to fifty high school students over the course of two days. You should have seen their notebooks. Filled with notes. I got to sit in on small group time following the sermon, and their retention level was amazing.

This would have been true no matter who the speaker was. Because of the fact that the Church has trained them so well. Students are capable of watching a movie once and quote pretty much the whole movie verbatim. If they can do that, they can handle sitting under God’s Word, which has the power to save them and change them for eternity.

After talking with hundreds of these college students who grew up in the Church going to youth group on a weekly basis, I can’t help but realize that the Church has failed. These students have never sat through a sermon longer than 20 minutes. They believe that the Bible teaches that human beings are inherently good. Rarely, if ever, do they think about death. Also they don’t know how to love, because after being referred to secular counseling and exposed to the world, they are taught to only love people who love them in return. And although they claim to have been evangelists and to have shared the Gospel they cannot explain even a basic presentation of the truth.

We have a great responsibility and opportunity with our youth, proverbs 22:6 reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it”. I’m thankful for Immanuel and other faithful churches that despite the culture’s pressures doesn’t waver in these essential areas.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is also the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion. You can find his personal blog at
  • Sarah Fulmer

    I think something else (although, as a “youth group member” at least for a few more months I completely agree with everything said here) to be added is this: We are not adults. Seniors are “getting there” but honestly, we aren’t adults yet. We aren’t even “young adults”- those are twentysomthings. Please understand, I believe that we shouldn’t received watered-down or feel-good messages. We need the hard truth.

    But please, youth pastors, please don’t go telling your students that they are adults. Because we aren’t. Give us responsibility? YES!! Push us to learn harder things? YES! But act as though we are more mature than a HUGE range of growth levels (my YG includes 7-12 grade)? No. Please don’t. Give us hard things, but please don’t feed our egos by telling us that we’re grown-ups. The idea that “adults are stupid and kids are smart” is being pushed on us from all sides. The “I can change the world” mentality that so many parents and even YG leaders give their kids is DANGEROUS.

    I’m not saying that the next R. C. Sproul isn’t sitting in my YG. But I am say that most of us aren’t going to be premier and famous theologians. In the desperate attempt to get away from a youth made up of slackers to do-ers, we have pushed the idea that we will all change the world. We’ve pushed the idea that being a dad who leads his family in the Word isn’t good enough. We’ve pushed the idea that being a stay-at-home-mom isn’t good enough. We are constantly told to do bigger and better and “holier” things. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go on mission trips. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take the opportunists for learning and evangelism that God gives us.

    But we aren’t all going to “change the world”. At least, not the globe. “Be content with the minimum” is not my purpose. I’m just acknowledging that there are more men and women who have ‘regular’ jobs and families than those who don’t. And there is nothing wrong with that. So let’s teach our next generation about the real world. Let’s prepare them for the workplace, for the home, for children, for spouses.

    Because that is holy work too. If it’s what God has called you to, it is a holy work that we can throw ourselves into just as passionately at the missionary on the field in Somalia.

    *ending note*
    This is a GREAT post that I think a lot of people need to read. Thank you so much for sharing!! (And for having a comments section so I can share too…)

    • Steve Hardy

      Well thought-out, Sarah. Lot of wisdom in what you’ve said here.

    • Calvinist Tonto

      Good comments there, Sarah F! 😊 Thanks for your post!

    • Ira Pistos

      Sarah, I do not know you. I do know though, that the person whose post I just read is blessed with a mature mind and has parents that can look upon her with pride.

    • Sarah Fulmer

      Sorry, I realized that I didn’t ever mention this about my youth group: Our YG pastor and staff do a GREAT job of teaching us about our depravity, discipleship, mentoring, taking responsibility for our actions, the realities of life, and preaching long, expository sermons. 😀 I love my YG.

    • Karl Heitman

      Wise beyond your years, Sarah.

      //”We’ve pushed the idea that being a dad who leads his family in the Word isn’t good enough. We’ve pushed the idea that being a stay-at-home-mom isn’t good enough.”//

      Sadly, this idea/viewpoint isn’t merely indicative for the stereotypical YG culture in our American churches; it’s also prevalent in the home and corporate setting. We, generally speaking, are not a generation modeling Titus 2 for our young people.

  • Kevin Jandt

    Great, great, great, great… Should I say it once more.

  • Buzz Collins

    Well said, Jordan. On point one, I always liked the following quote:

    “It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power — it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.”

    ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

  • Steve Meloche

    I was saved too late to really be part of a “youth group” but the one at our little church ended up turning out a pastor or two and several missionaries from back before I got there. I think that in my years of working with kids I have come to the conclusion that one of the greatest scourges of youth ministry is the person who becomes a teen youth leader because they want to recapture the glory days of their fun youth group. They tend to have no patience with stragglers – they just expect all of the kids to just love Christianity like they did when they were young. And when the kids don’t then they sit around complaining about why those kids should not be in the group. I remember one such leader complaining to me at a week-long national youth conference that her spiritual high as a counselor was just shattered because she saw some of the girls in her dorm smoking. My first thought was “did you talk with them? Are they from a church or just friends that came? How exciting! They may not have heard the gospel (or maybe they came from a good church where people smoked but lived holy lives filled with evangelism).” But no, she moped around about how it ruined her day. (Then later I heard this same leader sitting around gossiping with one of the girls from her church about the many faults they saw in their Pastor). Really made me think about *why* people get into ministry. That probably accounts for the shallow ministry done in so many churches. Lots of leaders get into it hoping to bless themselves rather than others

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  • This is excellent. Especially point 5.

    • Johnny Crack corn

      Really? Long drawn out sermons? That’s where you lose them

      • Sarah Fulmer

        You loose *some*. And even if you do, God will work in their hearts. My generation is not challenged enough. We live in a world filled with 140-word “sermons” and no solid teaching. We need to be uncomfortable. We need to be held responsible and encouraged to act smarter than small children.

        • Johnny Crack corn

          Having worked in Youth ministry for years, as well as raising 3 children into adulthood, I can tell you that this style of evangelizing has no biblical support.
          Train up a child in the way…Prv.22:6, Prv. 4:4 Ps. 22:30-31 etc, etc.
          You will never replace the parental role with endless preaching. If the seeds are never sown and the sil never enriched the root will never take hold.
          I appreciate the passion of young Christians wanting to change the world and live out the great commission but we’re not tod to reinvent the wheel.
          Young Life uses a method that atracts teens with 55 minutes of fun and 5 minutes of the gospel. Ive seen hundreds of lives changed. They’ve been around for 70 years, I think its working.
          The time for teaching and long drawn out sermons are once the spirit has done His work of Salvation.
          Hebrews 5:13.

          • Richard Wheeler

            Johnny, I’m not sure that I would agree. The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain certainly were not short sermons. Neither was Paul’s sermon in Acts 20. He was so long-winded that Eutychus fell asleep in the window and we all know how that ended up.

            I have served as a Youth Pastor for eight years before moving to “adult” ministry, and teens (like Sarah) are not the exception, but can certainly become the rule. It takes work!!! Hard work. A youth pastor should put HOURS into a message and not simply download something from a website. He is to rightly handle the word of truth, and should not just feed the teens in his care spiritual fluff.

            Young Life has a purpose, but it should should not be the long-term staple of one’s spiritual formation any more than McDonald’s – which also has changed hundreds of lives and has been around for decades – should be one’s physical source for nutrition.

          • Johnny Crack corn

            You’re going to compare the people of the 1st century to the youth of the 21st century? Carry on christian soldier. It’s your ministry brother, it was my opinion to differ.

          • Richard Wheeler

            I know brother, it’s tough and I wish that our society weren’t as spiritually & Biblically illiterate as they are. God bless you and I pray that He uses you & Young Life…AND I pray that those saved under your care are handed over to a solid, Bible teaching church where they can be discipled and encouraged to grow spiritually…and can sit through a long sermon! 🙂

  • Still Waters

    My pastor and church did all this for me. They did it by not having a youth group (too few youth). That meant I attended the adult Sunday School class from the age of twelve – the class was basically another sermon – and then I sat through the nearly hour long sermons. As one of the few trained musicians in the congregation, I participated in the service by playing the piano. I look back on my teen years in gratitude for the pastor’s faithfulness in teaching and for the early responsibility given.

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  • 1984

    “The Bible doesn’t allow for this. Adam and Eve in the garden attempted to blame shift and God not only didn’t allow it but also punished them severely for their sin”

    A lot of this makes absolutely no sense at all. Adam and Eve were not created very knowledgeable, but God knew the future even before it happens, so why did he place the tree there in the first place? And I’m sorry but, if a God is the source for everything then he is responsible for the results. And certainly with being all powerful he could get things undone.

    “No one ever thinks about death! ” I’d rather say that it is a common thing to think about, but perhaps not so much with others but almost any fictional story contains some elements with death. And who doesn’t read news-stories about deaths?

    “Teach them to love like Christ did”

    Believe in me or go to hell. As well as inventions of hell, diseases, natural disasters, thought-crime etc.

    / From an atheist perspective on a few things. A lot of people simply do not believe, it doesn’t matter how you try to frame it, they still won’t believe.


    • Stephen “Steve” Sponsler

      Then read John Owen, ‘The Holy Spirit”. There is a reason for it..a person’s heart and mind has been Darkened to the Point that they are Blind to Being able to Understanding and Deaf to Comprehension but there is much more than that. The unbeliever seems to ‘think’ (first problem right there) that belief is merely an act of the volition of self-will – that is not the case at all. It is an Act of God in Spirit that brings one to The Knowledge of The Truth. Until one receives the Spirit that is of The Same Nature of The Spirit of Truth, ..the Truth of Wisdom and Knowledge then it is impossible to come to The knowledge of God. It would be like ‘like’ a person who knows only the English language attempting to understand things about Nuclear Biology from oral presentations alone by someone who speaks only Chinese.

      • 1984

        It doesn’t seem that much at all is needed to believe in a god, as most do.
        But they believe in many gods, and even if they believe in the same god they make vastly different interpretations. Again, with a all wise, all knowing etc it does become quite clear that god or gods for that matter are not very good at communicating.

    • Jason

      “Adam and Eve were not
      created very knowledgeable, but God knew the future even before it
      happens, so why did he place the tree there in the first place?”

      This is the answer followed by the question. A person must have an experience to have knowledge (by definition: “awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation”). Adam and Eve were not only created without knowledge of evil (or of anything else) but they would have persisted in ignorance of both evil and, therefore, the context necessary to do anything but take goodness for granted, if that tree (and the serpent) weren’t there.

      Many today have no accurate view of eternity and, therefore, see the evil in this life as a bad result instead of a good cause. God is preparing an eternity for his church to fully appreciate his goodness. Something Adam and Eve could never have done without that tree.

      • 1984

        Sorry, but can’t buy into it, the amount of evil that has been invented and the things people as well as animals are put through is worse than all the worst dictators put together and then some.

        • Jason

          Obviously, because the dictators are part of it…

          • 1984

            Yes, all made in god’s perfect image.

          • Jason

            I assume that you mean that God declared it good? The world wasn’t made in his image. That language was only to describe Adam before he sinned.

  • Tim Cote

    Excellent article. Praise God!

  • John Byde

    Glad you got the main message, Todd. Sorry, a bit snarky! 🙂

    • Todd Vanden Branden

      I respect a healthy degree of snark, John. It keeps me sharp. 🙂

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