What Teens are Looking for in Church

Sam Rainer

October 15, 2007

I’m a night owl. And sometimes late at night I go for the fourth meal. I am usually not hungry. But the glow of the refrigerator light beckons. So I open the door and look. My wife is a health teacher. So the fridge houses little in the junk food category. Apples, carrots, and celery…drats! Then I remember we’ve got light whip cream in the freezer. It’s cold like ice cream, but it just doesn’t taste the same.

Most of us are guilty – we open the refrigerator and stare. Hunger is not striking our sides. We just look. And we’re not particularly looking for anything specific. I guess in my case I’m hoping that my wife went on a surprise junk food shopping spree…yeah, right.

Churches have their doors too. And many teens are opening the doors of our places of worship and looking. They’re looking for something, but they don’t know what it is.

A considerable discrepancy exists, however, with what teens say they are searching for and what they are willing to do to find it.

The number one reason teens come to church is to make a connection with God, according to a new Barna study. A close second for churches is that teens come to understand better what they believe. But less important to this age group was learning about prayer, listening to religious teaching, participating in discussions regarding faith, being mentored spiritually, and discovering traditions about their faith.

Therefore, many teens like to search; they like the journey. But they aren’t necessarily seeking to find. They want to connect with God, but they don’t use the spiritual tools to make this connection.

“Just because someone identifies what they want does not necessarily mean they know what they need,” David Kinnaman notes in the study.

But the potential for a great harvest is evident – we know this young age group is searching. At their very core they understand that a void exists in their lives. Otherwise, they would not search. They are a receptive group. And with the right tone and delivery, they will listen to what the church has to say.

But right now many are just looking in spiritual refrigerators. They don’t know what they want. They may not even be hungry for the Word. But at least they’re looking. And it is the church’s responsibility to show them exactly what they need – the Bread of Life and Living Water. No religious junk food, just the straight, pure, and unchanging gospel message of Jesus Christ.

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