Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. In “The #1 Reason Why College Students Leave the Church Could Surprise You,” Kara talks about intergenerational worship, and also about why we should listen intently to teens who have doubts about their faith.
Here’s a key passage:
Of all the youth group participation variables we’ve seen, being involved in intergenerational worship and relationship was one of the variables most highly correlated to young people’s faith. So in other words, while it’s great that there are better trained, more called, more specialized paid and volunteer youth leaders—the downside is that the gap between the overall congregation and the youth ministry is growing, which ends up being toxic to young people’s faith.
I’m sure this will be of great interest to readers of this liturgy blog.
And though it’s not directly related to worship, this insight is important in ministry to young people:
Doubt is fairly pervasive in young people, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. What is toxic is unexpressed or unexplored doubt. When young people have the opportunity to express or explore their doubt, it is correlated with stronger and more mature faith.
That matches entirely with my experience.
In my teaching religion to high schoolers in the National Catholic Youth Choir, in teaching theology to undergraduates at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, I have also found that doubt is pervasive among young people. If I respect that doubt, if I promote a “safe space” where every opinion is respected and every question is taken up, the response is positive.
Students get it that I am Roman Catholic and Benedictine and speak from that perspective, and they respect that and want to hear about it. They are not only open, but positively curious what it is like to be rooted in a tradition in a crazily changing world. But as one undergrad just put it in a course evaluation last fall, “Fr. Anthony talks to us like a real person.” That’s the key. (And it’s not something I always succeed at by any means.)
I’ve had much better experiences by inviting young people, as a fellow seeker, on a journey of doubt and exploration (I know how mushy that sounds!) than by coming in as an authority with lots of information “from above” and pre-packaged answers to every question. I’m no longer afraid of getting honest with young people and taking on the big questions – they can handle it and are ready for it.
And of course the time comes when the prof has to share the info and “answers” (settled Church doctrines) that he’s there to pass on. Students are surprisingly open to learning and even embracing that – not just because it’ll be on the test, but because it responds to real life questions about meaning and purpose.
But I’m going on too much about faith and doubt in young people. Intergenerational worship – that’s the key question for this blog. What do you all think about that??