I’ve posted this in the Family section before, and I’ll say it again here.
A very wise (Protestant) pastor, the father of three sons, told me something once that I have never forgotten. He said that almost ALL children and teenagers do not have a real faith of their own; they only imitate their parents’ faith (or lack of faith). Even if they are super-religious, reading the Bible, praying, going to church, going to youth group, volunteering at soup kitchenes, serving on short term missionary trips–it’s still not their own faith…yet.
As they grow up, many of these young people fall away from church and religion because it never was their faith, it was their parents’ faith, and once they are away from their parents, the faith is gone, too.
It is vital that everyone has a “conversion” or whatever you want to call it, when they actually make an adult decision to trust and obey Jesus. Many of us have made this decision. Almost every serious adult Catholic that I know has a testimony of a time in their lives when Christianity all made sense and they made a mature decision to follow Christ and submit to the Catholic Church (Christ’s Church).
For many Catholics (and I would say Protestants, too), this adult decision comes when children are born. People are willing to go without any religion as long as there are no little ones, but they want their children to have the experience of church and all the rich rituals and traditions (and yes, even though they are different, most Protestant churches have some kind of rituals and traditions; e.g., many churches have a Rally Day or Founder’s Day. e.g., many churches have a Praise and Worship time–yes, this is a ritual!)
Some people get upset when I make these statements, because they swear that THEIR teenager is very religious and that their faith is definitely real.
They also point out that many of the saints were teenagers when they came to faith and when they died.
So of course there are exceptions. I’m sure there are teenagers who have a real, personal faith in Jesus.
But I think it’s important for every parent to realize that more than likely, their wonderful faith-filled teenager is actually just mimicking them, which is kinda neat. But the real test will come when the teenager leaves home. We need to pray for our older children!
As for reaching out to teenagers with music, pizza, etc.–c’mon, y’all, it doesn’t hurt! Many teenagers, even those from lovely families, have the need to “break away” from the parents and become independent adults. These “youth groups” give them a place to go to be away from their parents for a while, but in a good way.
Also, many youth groups get involved with various service projects in the Church, and this is very important to helping a teenager come to a point where they make an adult commitment to Christ and His Church–service holds them accountable; people are counting on them to fulfil their task. They have a “place” in the Church–that’s what keeps a lot of teenagers going to Church after they graduate because they know that they have a unique place, purpose, or “niche” in that parish.
As long as teenagers in the parish are not “required” to attend the youth group, I don’t know what the problem is. Different strokes for different folks. Let the teens who love this kind of group go and God bless them. And let the teens who really hate “youth groups” stay away, and God bless them, too.
I had an awesome youth group growing up, and many of the teens that were in that youth group grew up to be faith-filled. They are still active in churches all over the world today. What’s sad is that now that we are older, we are starting to meet up with each other again–at funerals.