Hope Lutheran Church
Who Are All These Kids?
“Who are all these kids?” Good Question! Someone asked this a couple weeks ago as we had over a hundred elementary students here for our Release Time program. It was asked by another adult on Wednesday, October 25, as over 30 confirmation students met with their adult mentors throughout the church building. It is a tremendous blessing to be in a place where, as one dear friend puts it, “you trip over kids around every corner!” For many, however, the question is rarely answered as the blessing of our young people remains a blessing of presence, and not of relationship.
This is unfortunate, because chances are many of us live active lives of faith because someone went beyond sharing space with us, and developed a relationship with us. Someone got off their rears, and shared their life and faith with you. Who was it? A parent or grandparent? A coach? A Sunday school teacher? A friend? Who took some time, got up, and got to know you?
Many of us grew up in an era where church school was about memorization and fearfully having information stuffed into our heads. Today leaders in the church have recognized how important relationships are to the vitality of a young person’s long-term connections with a community. This is true for faith communities as well, which is why we encourage as much participation from adult leaders in all our Youth and Family programing, including Sunday School, Confirmation, Mentor programs, Release Time, and more.
Most experts suggest it takes at least 4 or more meaningful relationships in a congregation for a young person to remain engaged in a life of faith beyond their early 20s. These relationship are characterized as ones where both adult and youth mutually share openly their joys and sorrows in life, their fears in this world, and their big questions about faith in this world.
Sure, it can be incredibly scary to put yourself out there to meet the children, the families, and the (gulp) teenagers in our community. Some of the things we hear when recruiting volunteers include things like
“I don’t know enough about the Bible”, “what if I get asked THAT QUESTION”, “I can’t relate, I’m out of touch with youth today”, “They are going to eat me alive”. Sometimes we feel like Ananias, who was tasked with seeking out Saul, who had been persecuting followers of Jesus. (see Acts 9:1-19) Stuck like Ananias in the fear of what might happen, that they might eat us alive...
This fear plagues our communities, and keeps us from connecting in meaningful ways. Keep in mind that our youth are probably a little afraid at first too. It’s the same fear that keeps us from getting to know anyone, the vulnerability of putting yourself out there and saying in some way, “Hey, I’m curious to know you more,” and the fear that they do not share the same interest in getting know you. Over the last few decades our churches have turned to the individual youth director to care for our youth’s faith. Unfortunately studies show that one person can develop meaningful relationships with maybe 3 youth over the course of a year. How do we care for the other 97?
What blows my mind is that when we ask others for the characteristics of those who made an impact in their faith lives, we get words like “kind, actually listened, available, took time, caring, not judgmental” and not words like “Theologically sound, had all the answers, hip old grandma.”
What does this mean? It means you are qualified to get to know our young people (and anyone really) if you care about them, are willing to invest some time, and... that’s about it. It means you too can be a Sunday School Teacher, a Mentor, an Adult Leader for an overnighter or day trip, help with Vacation Bible School, Release Time, Mission Trip, and more. It means your presence is needed and wanted as we all journey together in faith. Something else happens when we build meaningful relationships with each other, as many have attested. We are blessed by what we learn and receive from the relationships we invest in. Blessed by the relationship, and not just the presence of.
Let’s get to it! Why? Because it is important. Because they are not just kids. They are OUR young people. They are OUR church. If you have any questions about how you might be able to engage young people in our community, visit with me, Michelle, Mar Kuha, Martha Vetter, Jolene Link, or anyone else who is actively engaged with our young people.