By Rick Lawrence
In Part 1 of our exclusive article series The Secret Dreams of Teenagers we revealed the eye-opening results from our annual survey of more than 20,000 Christian teenagers. When we asked them to consider 40 different ministry activities and rank what they’d like “more of” and what they’d like “less of” at church, “Learning about Jesus” topped the list. This is a startling result when you consider the 39 activities that rank below it. You’ll find a full exploration of Part 1 of our massive survey in the January/February issue of GROUP Magazine—just go to groupmag.com.
In Part 2 of our survey we’ll pull back the curtain a little more and explore Christian teenagers’ “secret dreams” through their answers to these four questions:
1. What is your biggest challenge in growing deeper in your relationship with God?
2. What is your biggest regret in your relationship with God?
3. What is your biggest hope in your relationship with God?
4. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
The common threads embedded in the tens of thousands of responses we collected from Christian teenagers are eye-opening, and will nudge your ministry vision in new directions. I’ve scoured the results, looking for common threads in their answers, collecting them under “response themes.” Under each response theme I’ve listed a sampling of comments that will give you a taste of what kids are trying to say. Dig in…
Question #1: What’s the biggest challenge in growing deeper in your relationship with God?
#1—I’m too busy to grow deeper with God.
• My busy schedule always conflicts with church events—it’s hard to stay focused. Find…
• It’s hard to have time with my busy schedule to do things to spread God’s Word with others.
• I am very busy with other things.
• I don’t have enough time to relax and pray.
• I am busy with countless obligations.
• It’s hard to be committed to God because sometimes friends, family, and sports get in the way.
• Because I’m constantly busy I forget that I can always turn to Him.
#2—I’m so focused on dealing with my everyday challenges that it squeezes out “God time.”
• It’s hard to keep my focus on God when life throws things at you!
• I have a hard time being still and listening.
• I have to overcome a lot of challenges—whether it’s peer pressure or simply torture, enduring through trials is hard.
• It’s hard for me to accept He’ll be there to help me through the hardships.
• The struggles in life get in my way. I’ve gone through serious depression, a broken/shattered heart, difficult family life, etc. All this blocks my focus on God—it’s hard to let that stuff go.
#3—My parents are more of a hindrance than a help in my relationship with God.
• My mom is anti-church, so she always tells me not to go and grounds me from it when I do something wrong.
• It’s hard dealing with my parents.
• My parents aren’t that in touch with God and don’t fully support me.
#4—I need help with the basics.
• My biggest challenge in growing deeper in my relationship with God is praying out loud.
• I have a hard time just getting to church.
• I always get frustrated because there is always one more thing to understand.
• Christianity is confusing and sometimes a little unbelievable.
• I have trouble with the hypocrisy in the Bible and things I disagree with.
• Bible reading—sometimes I just don’t understand what it’s talking about.
• I struggle with actually knowing He is listening and what His response to my prayers is—if it is a yes, no, maybe, or whatever.
• My biggest challenge is understanding how to grow deeper.
• I wonder if God is so great, then why does he do bad things?
#5—I feel alone—I wish someone could walk alongside me to help me know how to grow.
• I think the biggest challenge is when I feel as if I’m never challenged to learn more. It makes it difficult to grow on my own.
• Not having a great youth program is a big issue for me.
• I do not have someone to go and talk to one-on-one.
• I wish I had a mentor.
• My youth group doesn’t talk with me outside of church.
#6—I’m in conflict over leaving behind the stuff I’m not supposed to be doing so I can do the things I’m supposed to do.
• I’m struggling to give up things I am having trouble with.
• It’s hard to not crave my “outside life,” like bad music.
• It’s hard to sacrifice my “self.”
• It’s a challenge to deny myself and carrying my cross daily.
• It’s easy to get distracted by worldly things.
• It’s a challenge to fit in with people who are not Christian.
• It’s hard to give up things that give me pleasure.
#7—Struggling with my self-image and my “worthiness” to be in relationship with God.
• The thought of failing Him or having Him be disappointed in me is hard.
• It’s hard to trust that God is there and that He loves us no matter what.
• I’m scared if I accept Him I will disappoint Him.
#8—Peer pressure, and the fear of embarrassment if I really got serious about God.
• I struggle with what my peers will think.
• Peers are always pushing me to do different things.
• It’s hard to be a strong Christian at school without feeling embarrassed.
• I struggle to have the nerve to tell others about Him.
• I wrestle with opinions from other people, especially friends.
• I’m afraid that, as a Christian, I will be labeled as overly evangelical and try to force my beliefs on others.
#9—Disappointment and doubts about God.
• It feels like I have to wait a super-long time for an answer to my important prayers.
• It’s hard to believe that He is always there—it sometimes seems that He is not.
• I’m never sure if He is always there for me when I need Him most.
• My biggest problem is my own doubt.
• It’s hard to trust an unseen entity.
• It’s hard for me to believe that He give us a second chance.
• There is no evidence that any of the things in the Bible are real.
• It is hard to be faithful when I have to wait for things to happen.
#10—I don’t have a “felt need” for God.
• I’mcompletely content with my life—I don’t really need Him.
• Sometimes I don’t really care to remember He is there.
Question: What is your biggest regret in your relationship with God?
#1—I am unfaithful to God—I do things I know He doesn’t like.
• I feel like I let God down all the time!
• I hate not being perfect—whenever I sin it kills me.
• I regret going against what He probably thinks is best for me because of my own wants
• I regret doing things that displease Him.
• I betrayed Him and started to turn the other way.
• I go back on things I say I’m going to do.
• Lying and stealing some things that weren’t mine.
• I regret last year at workcamp, when I cheated on Abby.
#2—I don’t try hard enough.
• I’m not devoted enough.
• I don’t pray as much as I should.
• I don’t make enough time for my relationship with God.
• I’m not able to quote the Bible as much as I should.
• I did not go to church for a month, on purpose.
• I don’t worship Him as much as I should.
• I don’t have enough of a focus on God.
• I haven’t followed Him as closely as I should.
• I have times when I do not read or pray much.
• I don’t always put Him first—I put other things first.
• I have grown apart from Him by not pursuing my faith.
• I’m not more involved with my church.
#3—I don’t trust God completely.
• I don’t turn to Him when I need help.
• I doubt Him.
• For a periods of time I don’t trust Him.
• I’m not all-in about my relationship with God.
• I don’t always show that I really DO believe in Him.
• When times are hard, I don’t necessarily like Him—sometimes I think He tries to hurt me.
• I said that I didn’t believe in Him because He let my dad go to jail—I prayed that he’d come home soon, but soon never came.
• I haven’t really tried to get closer to Him.
Question: What is your biggest hope in your relationship with God?
#1—I want to grow closer to God.
• I want to become closer to Him.
• As I grow closer to Him, I hope to show people His love.
• I want to stay fully connected to Him and not fall apart—to break the cycle of failure in my life.
• I want to grow deep in my faith so that I can share it with others and so that I can know how to overcome things.
• I want to see Jesus one day.
• I want to continue getting closer to God until the day I die. I never want to stop learning or growing.
• I want to grow strong in my faith and be challenged by God.
• I want to listen to Him and get to know him better—to live up to His expectations of me.
#2—I want assurance that my life will get better.
• I want to know that He’ll me through tough times.
• I want assurance that I’ll be in heaven.
• I want to know that He will help me out.
• I want to be happy.
• I want to know that He will always be with my family, friends, and me.
• I want to know that He will bless me by having a good life on earth.
#3—I want to find and exercise my gifts on behalf of Him.
• I’d like to become a super-strong Christian, and to be able to witness easily.
• I want to know that He will lead me to do whatever I’m supposed to do in life.
• I hope that others would catch the fire I have—I want to teach them to follow Jesus.
• I want help seeing my path in life.
• I’d like to someday become a leader in my church.
• I hope that God will use me to spread the gospel and change people’s lives.
• I want to help others learn about Him and to live with God.
• I want to help other people.
• Through Him I want to make a difference in this world.
#4—I want my doubts to go away.
• I want to get rid of my million doubts about religion.
• I’d like to have complete faith and belief in Him.
• I hope to be able to pray more easily and ask for anything.
• I want to feel his presence in my life all of the time.
• I want to know He is always there, no matter what, and forever.
• I want to learn to listen to Him and think about what He would say about my decisions.
• I want to know that He will care about us and won’t abandon us.
• I wish I could start to truly believe and feel a connection.
• I want to know that He can get me through anything tough in life.
Question: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
#1—Nothing, I think I’m great just the way I am.
• Nothing, I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the unpleasantries.
• Nothing—God made me perfect!
• I am happy with myself just the way I am.
• God made me how I am, so I don’t want to change anything.
• Nothing, I like everything about myself.
• Nothing, because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.
#2—To be better at doing all things spiritual.
• I wish I could better at seeing the positive sides of current and future tragedies.
• I wish I had a better ability to pray and stay focused on praying.
• I would choose to be less focused on the things of the world so my thoughts could be directed on God.
• I would want to become more patient with others and God.
• I wish I couldn’t care less about what others think.
• I wish I could be more dedicated to the things I want to pursue.
• I’d like to worship more—I don’t think I worship as much as I could.
• I’d like to be more connected with Jesus.
• I’m frustrated with my inability to listen to God—I’ve blown about three or four do-overs.
• I wish I read the Bible more
• I need to put more faith in God and reprioritize my life.
• I wish I could turn up the knob of my passion for Christ. Right now I feel like I don’t have much passion.
#3—To stop, or at least slow down, my sinning.
• I wish I could hold my tongue.
• I lie too much.
• I have a short fuse.
• I wish I would have waited to have sex.
• I wish I hadn’t done some things I’ve done.
• Every time I sin I want to change it.
#4—To be a better person.
• I would want to be more caring.
• I’d change the way I get mad and frustrated so easily.
• I would change my attitude about not wanting to go to church.
• I want to change my sad temptations.
• I would want to stay calm longer.
• I would want to change how lazy I can be sometimes.
• I’d chance the way I treat my family.
• I’d be more open.
• I’d be nicer.
• I would be outgoing.
• I want to be more of a leader.
• I want to be more open to other people—not so judgmental.
• I wish it wasn’t so hard for me to do new things—I’m nervous.
• I wish I wasn’t shy at school.
• I wish I wasn’t heartless to some people or things that are very emotional.
• I wish I could change myself—I would change my jokes about everything and be more serious.
• I wish I talked less and listened more.
• I’d like to eat better and pursue fitness.
• I’d like to really start showing my mom some real respect and care and that I love her.
• I would be a softer person.
#5—My physical body
• I’d like to be taller.
• I’d change my nose—I’m super self-conscious, so I also wish I could be more self-confident.
• I’d change my body, even though God made me special!
• I’d change my hair.
• I’d be more confident and happy with my appearance.
• I would want brown hair.
• I wish I was healthier.
• I’d change my hair—it’s hard to handle.
• I’d change my height.
• I wish I was taller and skinnier.
• I wish I was pretty and liked by everyone.
Rick is the longtime editor of GROUP Magazine. At our Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Louisville, Kentucky (March 2-5) he’s leading a pre-conference session called “The Sifted Experience” and an eight-hour track called “Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry” (youthministry.com/symc). His latest book is Sifted (siftedbook.com).