There is a startling statistic that says 70 percent of all teenagers will drop out of church between the ages 17 to 19 years old. When I stop and think about this statement it can bring me to a place of turmoil and hopelessness. I have a heavy heart when I think about what our students will do in what can be the most life-altering and life-defining season. Up to the point when they graduate high school, their lives tend to be decided for them. What they do with their time, where they go, and how they are provided for is, in most situations, decided for them. Once they graduate, most of our young people are completely immersed in the real world and many times experience a liberation of identity. This is a point at which they truly begin to create their own identity apart from family. They begin to ask the question, “What do I think?” No longer is their identity dictated by parents, teachers, or in some cases pastors, but they have the freedom to begin to define their own identity. As I mentioned at the beginning, the percentages say that this leads to a dropout of faith for 70 percent of all our students. The question I pose to myself as a pastor is, “How do we change this?”
In our Avalon Students (AVS) ministry, we are working to combat this struggle. I believe God has given us an answer to this question, and we are continuously putting it into action. I believe God’s answer is clear and simple. To help our students step into the next season of their lives and allow God and the church to be a part of it, we need to do two things. First, we must help our students know God. Second, we must help them experience God. If during their time in AVS our students learn to know God and how to experience God, then when they step out of this ministry, they will have a faith that is all their own and not based on or decided by anyone else. Once someone truly knows God and has experienced Him, then they are changed in a way that is undeniable.
With these two purposes in mind, we have developed two very different but equally important parts of our student ministry. We have Wednesday night services as well as middle school and high school small groups. Wednesday nights focus on knowing God through biblical teaching from the leaders and myself, while also focusing on experiencing God through fellowship with other believers and worshipping God in song. Small groups focus on experiencing and knowing God by connecting with each other through discussions. It is through those discussions that students share real-life struggles and begin to find answers in God’s Word in order to apply it to their lives. We do all of this with the desire that every student in our Avalon Student Ministry will find his or her personal identity in Christ. The only way to know the purpose we were created for is to truly know the One who created us.
I believe helping our students know and experience God is how we are able to keep them from dropping out of church and their relationship with God. I see this truth come to life on a weekly basis when students who are struggling in life come to Avalon because they have found a home in our ministry. I see it in the students who make the decision to take the next step in his or her relationship with God through salvation or baptism. I see it in the messages I receive from students saying, “If it weren’t for Avalon Students helping me see that God cared in my darkest moment, I may not be alive.” I see it in the outcast students who find a place to belong. I see it in the student whose questions were always ignored but have now found answers in our ministry. The truth is, every student is looking for his or her identity. If we can help them personally know God and experience Him, then their searching will end. At that moment, instead of dropping out when high school ends, it will only be the next step towards the future and hope they have found in Jesus!
Family Ministries Pastor