Helping build authentic Christians
Youth programs (totals reflect numbers supplied by corps) in the Western Territory have seen a steady decline whereas young adult (ages 18-25) meeting attendance has seen a significant increase. Note: statistics for young adults were not kept prior to 1997.
Source: Western Territorial Youth Department
“There couldn’t be a better time than now to make youth a priority,” stated Major Millie Bearchell, assistant youth and candidates’ secretary at the recent Territorial Administrative Leaders Conference. She then went on to explain why.
“At a time …
- when the number of children neglected and abused has quadrupled over the past twenty-five years with over 12 million of them raised in poverty…
- when, after leaving school, the average youngster spends 25 hours a week alone…
- when 75% of the nation’s youth have no after school program
- when juvenile arrests between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. have nearly tripled over the last 30 years…
- when the number of adolescents between 14 and 17 have increased by 30%…
- “… at a time when the word “crisis” best describes the youth of the territory and the families who raise these youth, Salvation Army youth program attendance in the West has fallen drastically. Over the past five years:…
- Sunday school attendance has decreased by 21%
- Girl Guard attendance has declined by almost 50%
- Sunbeam attendance has fallen by 42%
- The number of junior soldiers is down by 34%
- Adventure Corps attendance has dropped by 35%
- Corps Cadets have decreased by 24%
“We need to be aware of these facts and do something about the problems they communicate,” Bearchell stated.
“After-school programs provide a great opportunity when there is a mix of homework, recreation, and sensitively articulated spiritual teaching. The adolescent passage provides both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity as these young participants ‘walk the tightrope’ between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence ends as the young adult establishes a separate identity and achieves individuation where the person becomes an indivisible and integrated whole person responsibly living within his or her own strengths or weaknesses.
“During this period, adolescents test the limits of parental authority and establish ‘cluster groups’ of 5-10 other youngsters. Those adults who have gained their trust form a supportive group called a “Cloud of Witnesses”–and that includes the church especially–possibly, a youth minister. This group is there to pick them up or keep them moving forward. The adolescent never gives up his or her ‘outside’ cluster group, and it is only when the family and church abandon their roles that they will attach solely to the external influence. This is the critical area for mentors who know how to relate–how to lead by example–how to live Christian values.
“If we were to take a hard look at the steps we use to assimilate people into our church, we would discover that we are great at ‘outreach’–great at entry level and community building activities, but offer very little in the way of ‘building’ people–of ‘intimate relationships’ and of the all-important ‘mentoring’ so critical with this age group,” Bearchell said.
“One study discovered a single faith nurturing factor that was present in over 90% of born again adult Christians surveyed–those who had stuck with their faith into adulthood. Each of them had a half-dozen or so mentors to guide them through the adolescent passage. I’m talking about churches doing the one thing they are best equipped to do: build supportive, nurturing relationships across generations and extending the Christian family.
“By the year 2010,” Bearchell said, “there will be 30.1 million teenagers in the United States. The fields are ripe for the harvest. Let’s get out there with the right tools and be about the task God has given us. And let’s do it quickly.”
Make ministry to youth a priority
That our ministry will effectively meet the needs of children/youth of our communities and will facilitate their development as individuals of authentic Christian character and for future ministry leadership.
- We will endorse territorial models for after school programs for outreach to children by the end of 2003. The programs will include spiritual, educational, physical, social and mentoring features.
- We will promote and encourage home visitation for the families of the children so that a relationship can be developed with and a ministry developed for the whole family.
- By September of 2003 all corps will provide Sunday school for the spiritual formation of children and their integration into the church body.
- A strategy to recruit, train and develop youth leaders to lead and empower children and youth to grow in Christ will be in place by 2004.
- We will have an approved strategy for all corps to challenge and engage all youth in ministry opportunities in their home corps and community, summer camp programs, and local and overseas missions by 2004.
- An improved, clearly defined, and ethnically responsive strategy to recruit, develop and accept sufficient capable candidates for officership will be implemented during 2003.
- We will reinforce/reestablish the minimum standards for Christian education and character building programs, the end of 2003.
- By September of 2004 all corps will provide other opportunities for the spiritual formation of children and their integration into the church body.