Roger Mantel is the pastor of River Valley Community Church in Aurora, Indiana, a few miles from the Creation Museum. He is known in the area for his strong stand on the authority of Scripture. Pastor Mantel’s wife Christy has used her experience in youth ministry to help AiG develop a new Sunday school program, Answers Bible Curriculum.

In this guest column, Pastor Mantel looks at strategic ways in which churches can better equip their young people with answers to show that the Christian faith is reasonable—and at the same time, help stem the tide of a large youth exodus from our churches.

What can we do with young people today in order to keep youth in church and effectively teach them biblical truths? Recently, I’ve noticed that this topic has been on the minds of many concerned Christian leaders as they read surveys revealing the disappointing news that the way we’ve been doing youth ministry in our churches is often producing disastrous results. Today’s approach of “entertaining youth in the name of evangelism” has failed miserably in churches. Could there be a better way to reach our young people to keep them from leaving the church?

My wife and I met while ministering together on a year-long mission team that reached out to teens through music and drama. We found great joy ministering to teens who were searching for meaning in their lives. Many years (and three children) later, I found myself unable to shake God’s call to youth ministry. With children of my own, my desire was even greater to reach lost youth and point them to the Savior.

Soon the Lord opened a door for me to serve in a church with only a few teens attending. With no special training in youth ministry, I knew that one thing to do rather than entertaining young people would be to train them in the ways of the Lord. For nearly ten years, I ministered to teens by teaching the Bible and encouraging them to live out what they were learning.

As I read Ken Ham’s co-authored book, Already Gone, I wanted to shout the good news that it is possible to have an effective youth ministry in our churches. I have seen the positive results of teaching youth a solid foundation of biblical truth. I believe it is possible to reach youth and keep them in the pews. And the successful method we used fell right in line with Ken’s conclusions.

As I read the information in Already Gone, I couldn’t help but think about the teen Bible study we started at our first church. It grew from just two students to 18. What drew them? It was a simple verse-by-verse study of the Old and New Testaments, practical application, basic apologetics, and leaders who genuinely cared about them and modeled a lifestyle consistent with a biblical worldview. They didn’t realize it, but our youth were getting trained in basic Bible interpretation (“hermeneutics”) and apologetics as we studied Scripture verse by verse.

The teens who attended that study are now in their middle 20s. I am thrilled to keep up with them through the Internet and note their continued passion for Christ and His Word. An overwhelming percentage of them still attend church. Most have become involved in ministering to others themselves, through church leadership, mission teams, and even seminary. What some would have called a boring, straightforward youth ministry has generated multiple workers to labor with us in the harvest.

In our second church, we had a similar experience. The teens that had been used to an entertainment-based youth group found great joy in learning how to study the Bible in depth. I’ll never forget showing them a DVD with Ken Ham speaking and my shock at their response. For a year we had been teaching them about the authority of Scripture. Yet after listening to Ken speak, they voiced their doubts about the Genesis account of creation. Drawn to truth, however, they chose to hear more from Ken the next week and then the next. Over and over, we have seen the truth of God’s Word excite teens who are hungry to make sense of life.

Those teens in that church are in their late teens and early 20s now. I’m thrilled with a good report. Nearly all of those young people are faithfully serving the Lord and are active in leadership in their churches. Several are already in full-time ministry. Praise the Lord!

Although I’m a senior pastor now, I am still an advocate of healthy youth ministry.1 Our youth group and Sunday school classes emphasize the authority of Scripture, the study of both the Old and New Testaments as historical truth, creation apologetics, and the practical application of Bible truths in our daily lives. When biblical truths are presented to a spiritually hungry generation, suddenly the Bible comes to life, and the world begins to make sense!

As we continue to teach the authority of Scripture starting with Genesis, I am convinced that we are helping to establish a strong biblical foundation that will keep our youth from abandoning the church. I have seen firsthand young people who have been trained in basic hermeneutics and apologetics, and who are mentored by caring leaders who live what they teach. Not only do they stay in the church, but they are becoming Christian leaders who are excited about teaching the next generation the truth of God’s Word.

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Footnotes

  1. We are aware that some Christians don’t believe that youth should be separated from their parents during church-related gatherings. The ineffectiveness of youth ministry in many churches has helped lead to this conclusion; some Christians have advocated that youth ministry be halted altogether. Of course, AiG believes that when it comes to the spiritual training of young people, Christian parents should lead the way in training their children. The reality, however, is that many churches have youth ministries that are reaching out to young people who do not come from a home with Christian parents or have any other Christian influence.
    A church volunteer with several years’ experience in youth ministry shared the following with us: “One of my observations in my years of teaching and leading youth groups is that those children who go on to be involved in ministry are quite often the ones whose families or mentors supported what was being taught in youth group/Christian school, and also lived it out in the home. Kids that came from backgrounds where this wasn’t being done were much more likely to stop going to church. While there are certainly exceptions to this, I would say that it is exceedingly important that the teaching that takes place in youth groups be backed up in the home. A distinctive of the Answers Bible Curriculum teaching program is that in Sunday school, family members are studying the same passage within each age group, so that all members of the family are studying the same biblical topic.” Back