My senior high youth group was bright, engaged, eager to share opinions, and compassionate.
I still carry those days with me as my entrance into Christian discipleship: the informal yet passionate conversation mixed with opportunities to participate in service projects were my first, lasting taste of what it means to be part of the church.
I believe that many others who have been a part of youth groups could say similar things. But after graduation, that energy disappears and something else takes its place.
After years of talking about the issues of the day from worn, plaid chairs, we’re encouraged to sit around a committee table and help figure out how much fruit salad to order for an upcoming dinner.
After years of embarking on service trips, we’re told that there’s only so much time and money to devote to adults doing such things (and the kids have to raise their own funds for that, anyway).
After years of guitar-accompanied songs around campfires and concerts attended, we’re told to sit still in wooden seats to sing hymns played a beat too slow on an instrument we’ve only seen in our grandmother’s living room.
What many were taught to expect from the church in youth group is not what they find once they reach adulthood. Something of the dynamism; the sense that spiritual exploration is an adventure; the excitement of a call to go forth and help those who look, act, or believe differently from us is left behind on the youth room foosball table.
If—and this “if” gets bigger every year—our youth return to the church after they graduate high school, the church would do well to consider its demand for younger generations to conform to something wholly different from what they’ve been immersed in.
What happened to those lively discussions about something besides fruit salad?
Where are those chances to follow Jesus by helping others outside the sanctuary walls?
Where’s the passion and diversity in worship?
And most importantly, where is the living and active Spirit of God who once seemed so evident in the youth room, the soup kitchen, and the fire pit sing-along?
“Well, of course it’s still there,” the objection will come. “It’s just not the same.”
And to many, that difference is the problem.
Jeff Nelson is a pastor, spiritual director, and writer. He is author of the book Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday. He lives with his wife and two children in Uniontown, Ohio, where he serves in ministry at Grace United Church of Christ. In his free time, he enjoys playing music, reading, and keeping up with Michigan sports teams. He regularly blogs about ministry, spirituality, and pop culture at http://www.coffeehousecontemplative.com.