As a woman I have realized the lack of community that we have created amongst the many generations of people in our church.
Think back on your life as a teenager. What comes to mind? Anxiety? Peer pressure? Acne? I’ve heard it said that “kids are different today; we can’t relate.” I disagree.
My name is Erica Jones and I’m not a teenager, nor am I a college student, but I am a mentor to young women across the U.S. and beyond. My work has taught me a few things I desperately want young people to understand.
As a woman I have realized the lack of community that we have created amongst the many generations of people in our church. This needs to change, and I believe it can change right now, right here, with us.
And now you have wisdom, you’ve grown up and you’ve gotten your education, you’ve figured out how to do your hair, and you have a couple trophies in your closet
You were once an acne-faced teenage girl (unless you were the chosen flawless one) with no idea how to do her hair, and an obsession with books, boys, or basketball, or all of the above. And now you have wisdom, you’ve grown up and you’ve gotten your education, you’ve figured out how to do your hair, and you have a couple trophies in your closet. Now you see the teen girls coming up behind you, flustered by those same challenges you once faced. They are desperately looking for someone to look up to, to talk to, to trust.
They are about to make some of the most important decisions in their lives, and they most likely will not turn to you for advice. They will turn to a secular worldview to make decisions. Almost 70 percent of millennials say they learn more from technology than from people- imagine what Gen Z would say! Why listen to advice from youtubers and google searches instead of the Church? Because they’re looking for real answers to real problems.
In a recent study conducted by the Barna group, surveys showed that there are five common reasons teens and young adults leave the Church:
It’s an exclusive club.
They’re unable to express doubts.
Church is overprotective/sheltered.
There’s a lack of trust.
There’s a focus on behavior rather than internal transformation.
What does all this point to? A lack of relationship. Not all young people leave the Church because they haven’t been engaged or involved; they mainly leave because of the negative experiences they’ve had with other Church members.
The single most important component of an adolescent’s healthy development is the consistent presence of an adult caregiving relationship—in other words, mentorship. Nothing is more impactful in the life of a teenager than a relationship with someone they fully trust and with whom they can talk about anything. In fact, positive intergenerational relationships are the number one indicator of youth who remain in the Church. Youth are drawn to adults who are consistent, committed, and compassionate. They want to feel they have spiritual support—despite the mistakes they make along the way. This is where you come in.
What does this look like?
You must build a relationship before giving advice. Trust must be earned before anyone will listen with any real interest.
Second, you must provide a safe space where they can find answers to the real challenges they face. You have to be ready and willing to answer hard questions about relationships, sex, addiction, depression/anxiety, and a myriad of other issues.
In the midst of a tumultuous, ever-changing season, what youth need from us more than anything else is empathy. You may not have experienced what it’s like to be dumped on social media, but you have to be able to feel what that must be like. And you don’t have to have all of the “answers.” It’s always better to ask rather than assume. Ask open-ended questions that show you care and are listening.
Expect the journey to look different from yours—put your “shocked” face away—but don’t discount the impact of sharing your own story either. Maybe you are the woman (or man- for our male readers) that is going to be able to guide them into a better relationship with Jesus, if you are patient enough to work through their growth. When the youth open up to us, we have to be willing and ready to accept that the stories and choices may be hard to hear. Offer companionship and confidentiality no matter what she shares with you. Be open. Be genuine. And then listen.
If you cannot listen more than you talk, if you can’t keep your face from contorting when you hear something shocking, this isn’t the ministry for you. Showing empathy and compassion does not mean you’re condoning behavior. This isn’t about lowering your standards; it’s about placing less of a demand on a person who is growing. There is a time and place for offering advice and gently steering our youth to better, healthier choices. But we need to be preaching grace, not perfection.
When we offer a place where they can share without fear of condemnation, where we listen more than we talk, where our advice stems from understanding and compassion rather than moral judgments, they find that the Church--faith--is relevant to their daily lives.
It is a privilege and a great responsibility when the next generation trusts us enough to ask for our advice. Let's give them a safe place to land when they do.
Erica Jones currently serves as the Assistant Director of Women’s Ministries for the North American Division. One of Erica’s greatest desires is to empower young women to have the tools to make wise choices in their relationships, recognizing that the choices they make now will impact them for their entire lives. Erica lives in Howard County, Maryland, with her cat, Boots.