When Did it All Go Wrong? Caving In & Dropping Out

TCTeens Conference (aka TC) is the annual 2-day evangelistic conference for High School students run by Ambassadors for Christ in Canada. Aimed at reaching the English (and Cantonese) speaking Chinese youth in the Greater Toronto Area, Rev. Arthur Wong of my home church (TJCAC) just had the privilege of being the speaker for this year’s Senior conference (they have so many kids attending that they need to split the conference up into Jr and Sr). I myself have attended numerous TCs in my younger years, and it has certainly played a significant part of the spiritual journeys of the young Chinese Christian generation in the Southern Ontario.

That Many Would Be Saved

Like all Christian conferences, it has its positives and negatives. There’s usually a lot of loud screaming and cheering that went along with highly competitive team games, numerous hormone-driven adolescent “macking” opportunities, and all-around adrenaline-driven teen rowdiness. Combine that with evangelistic preaching, emotion-filled hands-raising worship music, intimate fellowship, and applicable Bible studies, what this results in is in quite a fun-filled 2 days in the middle of March Break. By the end of the two days, you usually lose your voice from screaming cheers and singing at the top of your lungs — a supposed sign that you’ve really met with the Lord.

There is always at least one altar call during the conference, as far as I can remember. Whether it be standing up, raising a hand, walking an isle, or just praying a prayer, there’s usually ample opportunities for the teens to make a commitment and receive Jesus into their hearts. I have no set position for or against altar calls yet, but it must be said that the main sessions are usually akin to classic revivalistic preaching — that which pretty much begs for an altar call. And I would suppose also in recent years as the church culture becomes more postmodern, you probably might have been able to light a candle and walk through a prayer labyrinth too (though I am completely speculating on this last point).

Where Will They Go?

TCMuch can be said about improving evangelistic events, like TC. You may have experienced or even lead a similar conference in your church background. The are admittedly a wonderful medium through which we can reach the young generation with the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified. Draw them with the crowds, the shouts, and the songs, and win them with Jesus. Over the decades, it seems to have worked. Loads of teens still attend TC these days, but one has to wonder… Where will they go this Sunday, and subsequent Sundays, for church? Will they be shepherded by godly Pastors, Elders, and Deacons who will disciple them and walk them through the Christian life in community? Will they find other brothers and sisters in Christ with whom they can gather together and spur each other on towards faith and good works?

I know little about how AFC is running TC these days. As far as I know, it is the premier event in this para-church organization’s calendar, and they pull out all the stops to make this a success. But if statistics have any validity, if these youths are able to find a solid, Bible-preaching church to join, far too many Christian teens drop out of church after high school. For more than two-thirds of young adults who attend a Protestant church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church regularly for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22. 70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.

Where Did They Go!?

TCI have no intentions to bash TC or any other evangelistic youth conference — I myself have been saved and sanctified greatly through the ministry of Teens Conference. I even know of many young Christians who have met God through TC, and yet their parents are still unbelievers. I do intend to question the true effectiveness of such youth ministry and evangelistic conferences. Teens can attend these events, and supposedly “feel” like they have been saved; they may have raised a hand, walked an isle, prayed a prayer, and signed a commitment card; but have they truly been united with Christ and received the Holy Spirit? If they have, why are so many dropping out of church?— that is, if they even find a church to call home!

And thus, I wonder, what part of our ministries have been truly effective in winning the young? What part of it needs fixing? What part of it needs a reformation? Or God forbid I should ask, has the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified truly been proclaimed?

I’ll admit, statistics of church-goers and church drop-outs may or may not be accurate; the stats above are from the US and Canadian numbers maybe significantly different. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that there are large numbers of young self-proclaimed Christians who no longer attend to church. How can this be happening, if our evangelistic conferences and youth ministries have been effective? This certainly does not make any sense.

TCI myself can testify to one girl who was baptized at my home church who has since dropped out of church; I would suppose the shame of fornication has instilled a fear in her that keeps her from going back to church. I also know of one guy who was a worship leader under my leadership who has also stopped going to church, similarly afraid of going back to church or fellowship because he’s been gone so long. I wish that people like these would know that they are precisely the people church is for! — sinners who need to be reminded of the grace of God in their lives, that they are not just sinners but saints who have been united with Christ.

It seems that the lack of true, personal discipleship of this young emerging generation has pushed them away from church. Many others friends I have known in the past now no longer attend church because they simply have many other higher “priorities” in life — things like jump starting their career, hanging out with friends, starting a family, and upholding a yuppie lifestyle. They have caved in to the pressures of the world, and have given up their allegiance to Christ. In the words of the Apostle John, they are enamored by the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions (1 John 2:15-16), and have found that they don’t really need Jesus to get on with their lives.

That my friend, is a shame. For I thought we had youth ministry all done right; I thought we had them.

And now, I just don’t know.

When did it all go wrong?

How did we lose them?

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