The recent Singapore Census 2020 reported a rising trend of youth declaring that they have no religion. According to interviews conducted by CNA, some youths, Christians included, said that religion was not a big part of their lives, even though they participate in religious rituals with their parents. (For more details, see CNA article “No Religion: Why more in Singapore are turning away from traditional faiths”)
Why is this happening? Are parents and the church failing in the Deuteronomy 6:4-9 mandate to disciple the children? How can the church disciple the young ones to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?
Recent research from Fuller Youth Institute showed that for a youth’s faith to grow and continue into adulthood, s/he will need five significant spiritual relationships. The parents count as one, their youth leader could count as one, but what about the other three? This is where the church can come in. Youths need adults who know them personally, and who will approach them in the community of faith and ask them about life and school, or even their friendship problems (which is extremely common at their age). The good news is this – you do not have to be young to love a youth; every adult in the church can be involved. All you need is a heart for youths and maybe a crash course in building a relationship with them. Here are four things that we learnt in our time as Youth Overseers that can help build a relationship with the youths:
1. Be available
Our youth know that we are caught up with life’s busyness and have limited time. When one of the youth leaders made changes to her schedule to accommodate youth, the youth commented, “you’re so free ah”? Separately, another youth said that while he appreciated the youth leader for meeting him, he felt guilty for taking up the youth leader’s time. It made me wonder if the youth’s perception of our busyness would hold them back from approaching us. Let us show that we are available. When we make time for them, through text or in person, we show that we care, and they can come to us anytime they need.
2. Be interested in their lives
When we make ourselves available to the youth, we are given the opportunity to enter their world. The generation gap naturally closes when we make a genuine effort to listen and be interested in their lives. If not for our involvement in the youth ministry, we would not know about slangs like “ship” and “stan”, or KPOP groups like BTS or Ateez. Let us step out of our comfort zone to engage in new activities the youth are interested in to forge better relationships. We may embarrass ourselves in the process, what matters is that our youth can see that we tried. This has an additional perk of creating memories that will last for life.
3. Be a Safe Environment
To engage our youth effectively, we have to create a safe environment for them to be vulnerable and share openly. Our youth grew up in a different culture, so we should not assume that we know what they are going through, or worse, downplay their problems. When we are quick to jump to conclusions and solutions (which would be based on what we learnt while growing up in our time), we have missed the point – the youths want their voice heard and their feelings acknowledged. The last thing we want is for them to clam up, and we end up shut off from them. Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak. (James 1:19)
4. Be open to two-way conversations
However, providing a safe environment does not mean we do not get to speak. If we have done the above, we eventually earn the right to speak into their lives. But instead of a top-down approach, let us dialogue with them. With growing access to a wealth of information online combined with their impressionability, youth will inevitably question what we tell them. We should be glad because this means they do not blindly consume what they read online and they find it safe to share their views openly. We should take this opportunity to have two-way conversations to help them to navigate issues, thoughts, and concerns. This also places us in a better position to shape their understanding through a biblical lens.
We hope that the above tips make it easier for everyone to start building a relationship with youths. The discipling of youths is not the sole responsibility of the parents or the Youth Ministry. If we want our youths to thrive in their relationship with Jesus, let’s play our part in being one of the five adults in their lives. Will you consider reaching out to a youth today?
By sister Leow Zhi Xian & brother Nixon Sng