The Habits That We Make – Isolation

We all have habits, some intentionally developed and others not. Looking closely at both intentional and unintentional habits for Christians and the church helps us to see both helpful and harmful consequences for youth and their families. This series is designed to explore habits that need to be reconsidered or broken entirely and provide encouragement and recommendations for churches and adults who work with youth. In this first article, we are talking about isolating youth from the congregation.

During the summer of 2011, I went on my first mission trip with my church at that time, and as an adult in my early 20s I was blessed in many ways.  One significant way occurred while riding in a full van for two days to reach our destination, then basically spending 24 hours with each other for a week, and finally returning home in the same full van again for another two days.  Through all that, relationships and friendships were developed!  Not just relationships with other people in their 20s, but people younger than me, people older than me.  In fact, with some of these people, they became like family to me, and I to them!

Because I was interacting and getting to know these individuals, relationships in the church developed that probably wouldn’t have unless there was an opportunity.

It is a common habit in congregations that sometimes comes accidentally over time, but is easy to fix:

Isolating kids and/or youth from the rest of the congregation. 

In my opinion, this habit is a significant factor in explaining why it is such a struggle for young adults to continue with attending church after high school (or even confirmation).

In fact, many of today’s youth do not know how to establish many in person relationships, let alone really talk to someone in person, regardless of whether the relationships are in the congregation or not. Why?  Well, there is a generational component, such as the impact of the internet and social media, but also youth within the congregation never really seem to be provided the opportunity to interact with individuals outside their own generation and are, therefore, not able to develop relationships with other members throughout the congregation.

How could youth develop relationships with other generations when things like youth group and Sunday school isolate them from the rest of the congregation?  How many times do churches and their workers make a mission trip opportunity to share the Word of God but the opportunity is just for the youth?

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with those things (youth group, Sunday School, and servant trips) in and of themselves, especially since their fundamental purpose is to share God’s Word.  Therefore, they do have a place within the life of the congregation.  However, for many congregations, except for in Divine Service, there is a habit to isolate youth and children into their own age groups rather than incorporating them into the larger congregation.  This is a detriment to not only the young people of the congregation, but also the congregation as a whole.

It is important for youth to know that they are part of the congregation.  Also, the older generations need to be reminded of that same thing.  Young people are part of the church now!  They are not the church of tomorrow.  Also, I believe that when relationships are developed, that in turn enables one to better comfort another through one’s personal challenges and struggles.  Lastly, how are older generations within the congregation able to teach the younger generations about life and Jesus if they are always separated?

My encouragement to fight against this habit is this: Find ways to incorporate all generations into your different ministries, what can be called intergenerational ministries!

For example, at my current congregation, we have a Sunday, the last Sunday of the month, where all generations of the church can come together and are in God’s Word together.  We call it G.I.F.T. (Generations in Faith Together)!  This allows for the opportunity for intergenerational interaction, while still being focused on God’s Word.

Also, one thing that I have done within my current congregation is remove the designation of “adult” Bible study.

There is only Bible study.  All ages are allowed to attend Bible study, though they can still go to their designated Sunday school grade if they like.  You may be thinking, well, how are little kids going to learn in a class of adults exploring adult level material?  Good question.  While there isn’t enough space here to explore the whole structure of Christian education, the simple answer is this:  Even though the kids may not completely understand what is being talked about in Bible study—though kids are smarter than you think.  They can learn from the modeling of mature Christians, regardless of age, being in Bible study together.  It starts creating the habit and importance of being in Bible study together with other Christians, not just in Divine Service.

Lastly, another easy thing that congregations can do that I have done is eliminate high school Sunday school.

I either want them teaching Sunday school or in Bible studies with other adults (because high schoolers want to be treated like adults, right?)  Again, this is all about diminishing the habit of isolation and getting youth involved in other parts of the church with other generations so that they can start getting in the habit of developing relationships with people outside of their generation.  Though high school students still have time together in youth group for peer fun and learning!

In conclusion, be careful in isolating kids/youth from the rest of the congregation.  Provide opportunities outside of Divine Service for all generations to interact, and start creating that habit of being in Bible study with other Christians, regardless of ages.

About the author

Josh is the Director of Christian Education at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Yankton, SD. He received his DCE Certification and Master’s Degree in Theology from Concordia-Irvine. He is married to his wonderful wife, Ellen, and they’ve been blessed with amazing children.
View more from Joshua

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