I recently visited a Sunday morning service where the pastor called a few of the teenagers up to the platform to help him. I was excited to see that the pastor was using teenagers in the service, demonstrating that the main service was a place for them to belong. And then, these dreaded words were said to the congregation: "Our youth are the church of tomorrow."
Where is the Biblical basis for this statement? Why do we not view teenagers as a part of the church of today? When do they officially become the church of today? Are teenagers like wisdom teeth, only to take their place in the body of Christ sometime between the ages of 17-25? It appears that the church of today is made up of people who have a full-time income and can financially support the church more significantly than tithing from babysitting and lawn mowing.
The idea that members who make up the church of today are working a full-time job could be supported by the fact that many retirees have come to view themselves as the church of yesterday. Upon retirement from full-time employment, many have indicated that they have done their part to serve the church and are passing on the responsibility to the next generation.
In her book, "OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook," Kendra Creasy Dean retells the story of Eutychus in Acts 20:9. She wonders why Eutychus-a young man-was sitting in a window on the outskirts of the congregation and not in the midst of them. Teenagers, like Eutychus, are at the margins of our churches and aren't being noticed until they fall out of church.1 We are grieved that many teenagers in our churches are falling out of church after graduation, but we continue to call them the church of tomorrow as they sit in our churches today-ready to make their lives count and impact the Kingdom!
Where were the adults when a giant needed to be slain, when 5,000 needed to be fed, and when a savior needed to be born on earth? Teenagers are daring enough to step out in faith when the risk is great, are willing to give all they have when the resources are few, and are eager to be used by God to bring about great and mighty things for the Kingdom. The church is incomplete without the redeemable qualities that adolescence has to contribute to the life of a church.
Don't refer to your teenagers as the church of tomorrow. This statement is damaging to the health of a church. Teenagers hear, "This is not your church yet," and the congregation hears, "These teenagers are not an important part of this church yet."
Age is not a qualifier for belonging to the church or participating in the mission of the church. We need teenagers to be the church of today, or they may never become the church of tomorrow. Treat teenagers as the church of today and they will still be the church tomorrow!
Chris McGough is Asst. Professor of Youth Ministry at Central Bible College in Springfield, MO.
1 Dean, Kenda Creasy, and Roland D. Martinson. OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2010.