By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director
In the post-pandemic digital age, where the ground under our feet shifts so often we might as well live in an earthquake zone, the future of ministry looks a whole lot like its past…
A century ago, our society was rural, our churches were small, adolescence was a two-year apprenticeship to prepare for adult responsibilities, the church was merely an extension of the family, and parents knew it was their calling to teach their kids about God.
Today, our society is urban/suburban, our churches are larger, adolescence has extended to a 15-year grind, the church automatically separates families into age-based learning groups, and parents expect called professionals or trained laymen to teach their kids about God.
These changes seem like they’ve crept up on us. But from a historical perspective, it’s an overnight sea-change. And one of the side effects brought on by all this rapid change has had a profound impact in the lives of our young people.
It’s called parent disconnection…
A Widening Rift
Today’s young people not only don’t work side by side with their parents as they did a century ago, they rarely have “significant” conversations with them—the kind that organically lead to faith-forming moments.
- In the last four decades, American young people have lost 10 to 12 hours of parent-time a week. According to a Global Strategy Group (GSN) survey of parents and teenagers: “’Not having enough time together’ with their parents is the top concern among teenagers today. Teens are three times more likely than their parents to say that ‘not having enough time together’ is their biggest issue of concern (21%).”
- From the same GSN study: “A substantial percentage of parents and teenagers report that teens spend more of their free time watching television and using computers than they do interacting with their parents.”
- And only one in 10 live in a home where faith issues are discussed daily, according to researcher George Barna.
- Generally, parents are much more concerned by outside threats (like drugs and alcohol-24%) than they are about “quality family time” (just 8%).
- Finally, kids living in blended families say they spend “no time at all” in meaningful conversation with their stepdads during the week.
These are just snippet descriptions of a problem so large we can’t see around it.
The Answer Is Presence
In one of the largest research projects ever commissioned to study the root causes of teenagers’ high-risk behaviors, physicians at the Mayo Clinic conclude: “The most effective way to protect young people from unhealthy or dangerous behaviors is for parents to be involved in their lives.” Mayo researchers asked more than 90,000 junior and senior highers to fill out anonymous questionnaires, then followed up with more than 12,000 face-to-face interviews. Questions targeted key risk areas: mental and emotional distress, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual involvement, and violent behavior. In nearly every case, teenagers who reported a strong connection with their parents were less likely to engage in these behaviors.
In another key finding, psychologist Emmy Werner studied kids who managed to overcome poor, alcoholic, or abusive home environments. One of the top reasons some kids succeeded: “Their parents were consistently involved in their lives.”
Our “prophetic lean” as ministry leaders in this age of disconnection from meaningful interactions is to equip, train, and encourage parents to have a faith-nurturing presence in their kids’ lives. Every time we help parents connect with their kids around an embedded, everyday approach to their relationship with Jesus, we’re building a bulwark against the cultural wrecking ball that threatens kids’ health and faith.
When Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan was released, the studio promoted the film with posters that read: “The mission is a man.” At Vibrant Faith, and in the hearts of ministry leaders throughout the church, our battle cry is like it: “The mission is a faith-infused parent/child relationship.”
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily.