Evangelize Orthodoxy with Stronger Youth Groups

Teen pregnancy, pornography, moral decay, broken families, sexual abuse, drug addiction, eating disorders…these are just some of the crises facing our youth today. How is your church responding? Or, are they looking the other way?

Two boys and a girl

Photo credit: diggerdanno, morguefile.com

We may have the one, true faith, but we are losing our youth. I don’t know about you, but most of the peers I grew up with in church don’t attend anymore. They’re either all churched out, or they’re attending a Protestant church where they feel their kids will grow up to have a more real understanding of God.

Whether Greek, Russian, Romanian or Ethiopian, passing on cultural beliefs does not matter nearly as much as the church’s spiritual beliefs. Greek festivals are fun and festive, but what are we doing to respond to the pressures youth are facing outside of the church? How much time is really being invested in meeting the needs of the youth?

Recently, a friend of mine told me she was no longer going to be attending a certain Orthodox church any more. I asked her why. She said:

“They did a complete remodel, but left the youth rooms cramped and untouched.”

For her, this was the last straw. She had felt that kids weren’t welcome in this church, and the remodel was the death knell.

At the church my family currently attends, we are blessed to have a strong and growing youth group that meets regularly. Sadly, it wasn’t this way for me growing up. Because of the fact that I was only half Greek and didn’t understand the Greek/English slang of many of the other kids in the youth group, I didn’t feel like I fit in. It felt like more emphasis was placed on how Greek people were, rather than who they were as Orthodox Christians.

I remember attending a church-sponsored movie night/overnight gathering for the youth, where a teen in the youth group brought horror movies for us to watch. I had nightmares from these movies into my high school years. At another church-sponsored retreat, teenage boys from another cabin were invited in by the camp “counselor” to the girls’ cabin to spend the night.

Obviously, no church is perfect. But haphazardly throwing together a church retreat without standards or precautions is spiritually dangerous. Having a morally driven and spiritually motivated youth program is crucial in any church. Without it, the church will limp along and never truly succeed.

Kids today have questions, and they need them answered. Studies show that a positive peer influence, actively giving to charity, and being around adults they respect can make all the difference in keeping their life on the right course.Icon of Christ with a lamb on his shoulders

Teens rowing on riverSo, if you want to help your church grow, put together a plan for the youth group. Volunteer, and make things fun. Ask the kids for ideas. Kids love to be involved and to feel like their ideas matter. Make sure that whoever volunteers has had a background check, and that no adult is with any child alone. You don’t want your church to be the subject of the next scandal on the news. Be smart and cover your bases.

We have the faith, we just need to make it more practical and share it. Invite the youth back to your church. Welcome them and give them a reason to stay.

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Christina Pessemier is a writer, blogger, and mom of two.…
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