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Reaching Over-Involved Teenagers

We’ve already plowed through the meat of the new school year.

And if your life is anything like mine you’ve catapulted from the bustle of summer into the craziness of fall. My schedule is fuller (how is that possible?), overshadowed only by the packed calendars of my teenagers.

In that perfect storm of diminishing margins, how do we best reach them? With Gen Z it’s important to remember three things…

1. They’re Under Increased Pressure

The #1 complaint of youth workers is that kids are no longer prioritizing youth group over other activities. Why can’t they just say no to the Saturday soccer tournament or yet another dual-enrollment class? Well, many sports require a six-days-a-week commitment just to ride the bench. Since 1985 the average cost of a public four-year university has skyrocketed from $8,000 a year to $22,000 a year (for private schools it’s an increase from $20,000 to $42,000). Even two-year programs have doubled in cost.

The message is clear—if you want to be “successful” and financially secure, extra-curricular activities translate to scholarship money. Meanwhile, they face external pressure from teachers, coaches, parents, and friends. Youth group is the one place that extends grace for sporadic attendance. There will always be some that want to be at everything we plan, and others that will never have time (no matter how fun it is). Let’s intentionally communicate that we have growth opportunities for those who can come once a week, twice a week, or even once a month. Take the pressure off.

2. They No Longer Control Their Schedule

For those involved in competitive sports or other school-connected activities, the requirements often translate to extra practices and time at home. Teachers have upped the ante on their expectations outside of the classroom, and fewer young people over 16 than ever have a driver’s license. On a practical level, they’re pulled in many directions, and it feels out of their control. So let’s stop complaining about it and look for ways to help.

I’ve shifted some of our small groups to before school. It’s actually easier to get them there because parents drop them off on their way to work, and I just make sure they get to school on time. In addition, we’ve consolidated all of our programming to Sundays, and it’s relieved a lot of pressure. The goal is to take a step back and get creative with our timing. Look at who you have in your group, and what will help them get involved. Then do that.

3. They Are Fueled By Fear

The statistics for youth involved in underage drinking and drug use are dropping, but anxiety, depression, and suicide are at all-time highs. It’s a combination of the pressure they live under and the insane world they must navigate.  News of violence and natural disasters and daunting cultural challenges are ever-present on their screens. Public schools fear slipping test scores because they will lose funding. No one knows who will be the next mass shooter.

We can counter all of this with radical invitation. Not only do our kids need to hear about a Jesus who loves them unconditionally, but they need to experience what it means to be pursued by Him. They no longer need us to be present at their sporting events—they need to know we don’t judge them for choosing it. They need us to cheer them on and perhaps even show up a little early to pray with them and any teammates who might want to join in. My husband and I volunteered to be coaches, just so our teenagers can experience us coming to them instead of them coming to us.

This generation of young people is full of perfectionists who hide to survive. To get them to church, we’ll need to find ways to change our expectations.

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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Reaching Over-Involved Teenagers

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