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3 Incorrect Assumptions About Church Kids


For years now I have worked with primarily “unchurched” students. Honestly, I’ve gotten used to a group of students with no Biblical foundation or pre-conceived ideas about Christianity.Yet, I  guess I always thought if more of my students had grown up in the church then it would be different.

Then in the last two years I have had more of an opportunity to actually flip the switch and spend time with students who have grown up in solid, Christ-centric churches, from all over the country through small groups, camps and running mission trips. In addition I have begun to meet with students who attend Christian school, some for their whole lives.

So to paint a clear picture these are students who have Christian parents, growing up in church, many going to Christian school.

I have been speaking on the similarities of “churched” and “unchurched” students for years, but it has been like I am living in my own research project proving my points across the board.

Here’s what I am learning:  (Again remember: grown up in church, parent’s consider themselves Believers, some attend a Christian school.)

Students are experiencing these life circumstances:

  • Growing up in households riddled with divorce.
  • I’ve met students whose mother’s had been teens when they had them.
  • Students who don’t feel like parents listen, or even have time for them.
  • MANY student’s being bullied, harassed, and ridiculed.
  • Students struggling with deep insecurities, who admit they pretend to have it all together.
  • Students who are growing up in homes without fathers.

Then there is the Biblical knowledge. When interacting with students on “basics,” here are some of the responses:

  • Blank stares over and over again.
  • Students don’t know facts from their Bible or confuse one for the other.  (Like David was in the lion’s den).
  • When asked about different “Christian” words and phrases and what they meant like, “sin,” “temptation” or “living in the flesh,” they can not explain what they mean. They say something like, “I sort of know. I just can’t explain it.”

I hear these questions and answers often:

  • “How do you know you belong to Jesus?” I get a verbatim answer like,  “Jesus saved me from my sins.”
  • “What does it mean Jesus saved you from your sins?”  I get an answer like: “Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the grave.”
  • “What sins can you say specifically you feel like Jesus saved YOU from?”  I get:  Blank stares.
  • “If I were to ask you if Jesus is in charge of your life what would you say, honestly?”  I get,  “NO, I want to be able to make some decisions on my own.”

There is an interesting trend I am seeing from students growing up in the church. They fully understand the “stuff” you do to “act more Christian.” They go to church, serve, volunteer in the nursery, and go on trips to camp and missions. Some will even come and tell me they, “Want to go into ministry.”

Yet, when I say, “Tell me about your relationship with Jesus,” I hear a list of things they DO FOR Him.

I have tried rewording it and asking, “How well do you feel like you know the Lord?” Again a list of “stuff.” It is rare that I hear someone talk about love. They don’t tell me they are overwhelmed with the love Christ has for them or the love they have for Jesus.

Finally, here is what might be MOST fascinating. In encountering late High School and college students I hear this comment often, “People just assume that I don’t need anyone to talk to.” The ones who are growing up in great homes and serving on the front lines are often the ones who feel like all adults in their life are assuming someone else is “talking” to them. Youth pastors, teachers and coaches think it’s the parents, while the parents think it’s someone else.  Parents are often just trying to juggle living with a teen and have a habit of dealing with facts and ignoring emotions. Why? Take it from a parent of teens: Emotions are exhausting. You can’t fix them and you feel like you are always saying the wrong thing anyway.


Let’s stop:

  1. Thinking the “churched kids” are fine.
  2. Assuming that “no behavioral issues” means they are close to Jesus.
  3. Believing because we talk about the Bible, they understand it (or even truly take the Word to heart).

The irony is that I talk to youth people all the time who are frustrated with the shallowness of their students’ faith. I am wondering if we can change it up a little?

Can we have true discussions about the deepest matters bothering our teens?
Can we see just because they have “heard it” for a “million times” doesn’t mean they KNOW HIM?
Can we stop trying to “get through” lessons and curriculum and take the time to allow students to wrestle with their faith?
Can we allow students to feel safe to share their deepest doubts, fears and emotions?  What if they are angry at God for something or don’t know how to trust Him? Will we let them feel and direct them to the truth? Does this make us “nervous” because these are the kids who are “supposed to get it?”

I think for me I have been most convicted at how easy it is to walk into a group of students and wrongly compartmentalize their needs based on their background.

I spoke with a college student yesterday who said, “I was angry at God for years. I kept waiting for someone to notice. I guess when you are growing up in the church and know how to go through the motions, no on thinks to stop and really see if your relationship with the Lord is in a right place.”

This is worth thinking on. Can we stop thinking our churched kids are close to Jesus just because they can act like it?

When is the last time you stopped to ask them what they’re really feeling?

– Leneita / @leneitafix

11 thoughts on “3 Incorrect Assumptions About Church Kids

  1. I think you are right on with this post. I have found that the “churched” kids have entered into a “routine” faith where they can say the right things at times and attend the programs, but when it comes to going deeper in their faith, the “unchurched” kids are willing to explore their relationship with Jesus.

    I think this may be modeled at home where parents equate being a Christian with church attendance. Would many churched kids fall into the Laodicean “lukewarm” category? Probably. Yet, this mindset has probably been modeled to them. Whereas the “unchurched” student is exploring faith and a relationship with Jesus because they want to own it and know it. I think you raise good points and I have seen this scenario play out in my youth ministry.

    • Josh- Such a great point about the parents. I hear young adults in college say often, “My parents were great,but I felt like it was all about how much we were at the church building.” Or some variation- you get it. I think in addition we just need stop being “ok” with them being lukewarm. It’s so true- the unchurched kids have no basis, so even if it’s just out of curiosity they really seek. I think we need to keep letting our “churched” kids know they haven’t “figured out the faith formula,” instead Jesus wants all of them. Thanks again for an insightful comment!

  2. This past Sunday, I had a kid suggest to me that the Saul of the OT and the Saul of the NT were one and the same.

    Great words.

  3. This could have been written when I was a teen in the 80s. During college (in a fundamental Baptist college, no less) I started to explore my faith. I wanted to know if I believed or was just following the rules. I examined what I had been taught in lessons as well as by watching how the adults really acted. It was an eye-opening experience. The process led me to Judaism. I found what I truly believed. Then I learned that I was Jewish by birth. I’m home.

    Kids need to feel safe asking the hard questions. They want more than a rote belief system passed down the line with the family Bible and collection plate. It has to be real and meaningful if you want them to believe after they leave the nest. Listen. Talk. Be real.

  4. You have definitely hit the nail on the head.
    I have also worked with churched and nonchurched students. They all face the same struggles and we [as leaders, teachers, parents, etc] have to stop seeing them as this or that. We need to see them as students that need us to listen to them and advocate for them and with in the trails they are facing. Celebrate the victories with them!
    We have always allowed for open and honest discussion in our classes with the “this is a space and confidential place”. So far, the students have respected this greatly. We try to make time for students before and after class to talk with them one on one if needed.
    Digging deeper in their faith is something they all desire and it great when we has leaders ask questions that really make them think.

  5. David Watts

    I totally agree with this. I have gotten the same reactions and responses in my youth group. I also teach at the local high school and I can tell you it is systemic. Teenagers have been brought up to “build a resume”. It is all about what they ‘do’ versus who they really are. There is little depth right now and it can be frustrating trying to get through. I am feeling like I may want to spend more time with the teens’ parents in small group discussions in order to make more progress with the kids. I do spend most of my time on Sunday nights talking with kids about “them” and how our Scripture readings relate to how they are feeling in school and with friends. We rarely get through a true lesson. Relevancy is something the kids are hungry for. And unfortunately parents have not learned that either. Perhaps working with both parents and kids together can help provide some grounding.

  6. This is a reflection of the widespread “attraction” model of ministry. If the main goal for our gatherings is to bring “seekers” in, the messages and lessons taught will be – “Jesus saved me from my sins.” How can we expect kids raised in these churches to have any other answers than what they are taught every week? Until we shift our focus from “attraction” to discipleship (which then results in disciples going and making disciples), we will continue to see these responses from church kids.

  7. Such a great post, Leneita – thank you. I linked it on my FB with this note:
    This article got me thinking about my interesting perspective as a longtime youth worker who became a parent and as a parent who remained in youth ministry.
    Parent Me: Thank you to youth workers who didn’t assume my kids didn’t need you just because their mom & dad were in ministry. Thank you for investing in my kids. THANK YOU my kids, for developing your own relationship with Jesus and not feeling it has to look like mine or Dad’s.
    Youth Worker Me: Thank you parents for discipling your own kids and not leaving the “spiritual stuff” up to youth workers. It’s always refreshing when I can echo your biblical values, not introduce them for the first time. Thank you parents for living your faith out loud at home. THANK YOU my kids, for appreciating your youth leaders and speaking highly of them at home. And thanks for never asking me to stop being a youth worker.

    • Leneita Fix

      Thanks so much Danette! I am always overwhelmed as a parent when a Godly person asks if they can speak into my kids lives. It’s so needed!!

  8. Lauren Heller

    Praying for relationship with Jesus:

    This weekend I learned a powerful prayer. I tripped on it at my sons basketball game. In other words I realized it’s value and Jesus brought it’s value home to me because I tried to pray it whenever my son got the ball. I want you to know he was in a slump for several games. (He actually stopped shooting and played excellent games of service to his team, because he could not make baskets.) I was pleased for his response to a big problem, but was ready to get his eyes checked. There was no time for that.

    In the final game of a tournament against a tough team for the championship, he had 25 points. Nearly every shot he put up, plus rebounds etc. Truly the only shots he did not make, I was distracted or slow to pray for him. I was not taking the gift of this prayer seriously, I had no clue what Jesus was up to.

    I am convinced Jesus was trying to get through to me how much He loves the prayers of parents and all people who care. I don’t expect life to be a cake walk because I learned this prayer, challenges are always around the corner. My Lord can provide a response for me if I let Him. I hope to continue to do my part ‘Joining Jesus in His Redemptive Mission’ through this prayer and by fostering an attitude of gratitude, conversations, reading God’s word, enjoying faith filled music together, and repentant…forgiven worship. It is really not about me or my son or about sports. Sports was only a tool used to show me, at a time when Jesus had my complete attention, the awesome value of His presence. In other words, it is about Jesus.

    My prayer problem has been a continuing battle: I want to control how my prayers work. Lately, that has been remarkably ineffective. I am thankful to be trusting Jesus more each day. His will is what is best for us. He is God with us. His will is for us to invite and recognize and value His presence in our hearts and for us to allow Him to work there. It is not always comfortable but it is always important. We can be still and then be present to Jesus as He leads us to _________ (parent).

    Jesus is personally involved in our lives. This prayer is magnified by my frequent repentance and a pause:

    Thank you Jesus for your presence _____________.

    ( I choose to add “in my sons heart”, “on this court”, ” in this crowd”, “in these referees” “in these coaches”I saw dramatic Christ values come out of situations that were on their way towards trouble. The people involved were probably not all Christians. Jesus is Lord of all. Not just Christians.)

    It has only been one day but I began to pray for my husband and myself this way as well. We had a problem: I was sad because his humanity came out more than Christ’s presence in him a few weeks ago. I was having a hard time finding a way I could trust him to lead our family. I think this prayer will help strengthen my trust on the big stuff and allow for the growth of my husband and myself and our relationship on the little stuff. The cool thing is with this prayer: the stuff I think is little but is really big… Jesus is with him. The stuff I think is big but is little, I can still bring forward… but I don’t need to drive it home. That is Jesus’ job. I can hold Him to it. My job is to continue to thank Jesus for his presence in our hearts and be encouraged by Him as he allows me to see and be thankful for the little changes. Every thank you seems to open that door to our hearts a little further for Jesus to have His way. Proving once again, God’s will is for everyday stuff not just for hospitals and funerals.

    Lauren Heller

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3 Incorrect Assumptions About Church ...

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