In the basement, down at the very end of the hall, off the beaten path of the average attendee, there sits a room. The door is locked, the way is shut, it opens twice a week, when the door finally wakes from its rest and opens, the smell of pizza and popcorn waft into the nostrils. The lighting is dim, but only because there is a fluorescent bulb that has been burnt out for months, and no one has thought to replace it. This room is filled with bean bag chairs, old stained couches that are worn from the previous owners, a pool table that leans and is missing the 8 ball, a pinball machine that only works half the time, and of course an outdated pop machine that dispenses Sprite, Fanta, and Gatorade, oh and the cart stacked with Bibles. The walls are adorned with relics of the past, posters that remind us of a time when it was cool to consider yourself a Jesus Freak and that we were Meant to Live for so much more, as the images of Switchfoot, Reliant K, and DC Talk hang longingly on the concrete block. This room has only been seen by those who have passed through it or those willing few who have given their time to gather here. The room where so many lives are impacted, so many are neglected, where so many are pushed aside and out of the way. This isn’t just any room, it’s the youth room.
It doesn’t take long to realize it, at least in many churches, our youth are treated as second-class citizens. Look to the youth room, in so many cases it is located in the depths of the building. When it needs to be furnished, new items are not purchased, instead, the dust and mold are scraped off a couch and it’s hauled into place. We pick a few adults to pour into them and leave this to them as if it is enough. We forget the promises we made at their baptism to support them, pray for them, and raise them in the faith as a church. The discourse around “the youths” is that they are the future of the church, yet we put off caring for them until it’s too late. Some have devoted themselves to teach our youth, to raise them in the faith, but they are often abandoned and the burden is theirs alone. We have struggled and failed to strive to integrate these youth into the life of the church, and we wonder why they leave when college comes calling, or when they graduate from high school.
I recently talked with some of our high schoolers and they shared feelings of neglect, disconnection, and criticism of their generation. Which, to be fair, is nothing new and most of us have gone through the generational gaps. Yet, that doesn’t make it acceptable in the church, and we shouldn’t just settle in the name of “it’s always been this way.” No, it is time to move the room. Not literally, the youth room is a hallmark and a good thing, but let’s work harder to integrate our church so it is for all nations and generations. Let’s uphold the promise we make to care for, pray for, and help raise our children in the faith as valued members of the body of Christ. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a solution, yet the start of a conversation. But here is the thing, the conversation can no longer be about our youth and young people. Instead the conversation needs to include them.
There will always be the struggle and question to retain our children from the time they are confirmed to graduation and beyond. Yet, we should not give up. The world wants them, and there is a good chance they will get them and because of that we can’t stop fighting. Instead, we must fight harder for those we have promised to raise. The future of the church is now. It is gathering in that youth room in the basement with stained couches and a pool table. We are communicating to them where they stand in our eyes. We are communicating what we think. So instead of criticizing their cell phone usage, their attire, and their generation, talk to them about Jesus, who he is, and that they are loved by God. Their voice must be heard, and we can start by listening… And maybe by buying them a new couch.