What does it take to launch a student into adulthood with a growing trust in God, love of faith community, and active engagement in God’s mission? We could fill hours of time talking strategy about how to make this vision come true. But there is one thing that is hands-down, crucial and significant.
No matter the generation, the city, or the cultural context, the next generation cannot be sent into God’s vision for them without standing on the shoulders of faith-filled adults.
In fact, the more adult investment, the better. Some youth ministry gurus out of Fuller Seminary, who have spent years researching what makes students faith “stick,” cast a vision for every one student to have regular access to at least five faith-filled adults.
Are you surprised by this number? Many wonder: Can’t just one adult have a significant impact? Is that even mathematically possible for every student in our church? Do teenagers even want to spend that much time with people two or three times their age? We don’t even have that many volunteers!
They’re not talking about five youth volunteers or five discipleship meet ups every week. They’re talking about five adults who know a student’s name, actively engage that student’s interests, and look for opportunities to love that student.
The 5:1 ratio is possible, and it’s worth reaching for. Here are 6 reasons why:
- We’re inviting students into the family of God, so they need to see what the family is like.
Church is a family of families. God is our Heavenly Parent, and Jesus’ death and resurrection offers us an identity as His kids. And so all of His kids, represented by every generation, join together to participate in worship, love, and mission. The faith journey is not an isolated experience. We rob students of a rich experience of belonging, love, and maturity if they do not regularly observe and join in on the faith-filled life of older generations.
- More adults equals more resources.
Imagine you are standing in a circle with the other adults in your community. I throw you a ball of rope and ask you the question: “What spiritual resource do you bring with you, that you could offer to this student?” You answer, perhaps with: “compassion for the least of these.” I then take a large board with a student’s name on it and place it onto the rope. What happens? It falls, because the rope cannot bear the weight of the board. Imagine you throw the ball of rope to another adult across the circle, and they answer the same question with “a trust in God’s faithfulness despite tragic circumstances.” They then throw it to another adult who answers, “making the Bible understandable.” Again and again, the rope is thrown, with answers like: “praying for others,” “love of musical worship,” “the gift of discernment,” or “experience of forgiveness.” What happens when we place the board on the web of ropes now? It remains stable.
The more adults a student has access to, the greater the opportunity for that student to experience the depth and breadth of living a vibrant life with God.
- You can’t be what you can’t see.
A gift of being in a church family is that each student can have an opportunity to observe an adult walk the faith journey--an adult who shares their kind of “vibe.” Personality and interests are so varied among us, there’s no way that one adult can connect with every student. But, with a 5:1 mentality, there’s a greater chance that a student can “see” someone living a faithful life, in the midst of a real context, with real problems and questions. And as a result, be encouraged and inspired to live that kind of faithful life, too.
- Adults are more important than you think.
Is it hard to imagine that teenagers want to spend more time with adults? The largest-ever research study on youth and religion found that the idea that peers are the most significant influence in a teen’s life is a total myth. In fact, students want more access to adults. So why not give them as much opportunity to be around a diverse group of adults as possible?
- It’s not all up to you.
Teens often can’t stand their parents, but easily idolize others adults in their life. Mentoring and discipling students is critical in faith development, but investment from only one source has the potential for harm. And, by investing in students with a 5:1 mentality, you experience the benefits of the church family and have access to other resources and support.
- God wants it.
The interconnection of generations is embedded in God’s family story. Relationships like Ruth and Naomi, Samuel and Eli, Paul and Timothy, just to name a few, exhibit God’s desire for intergenerational relationships. Jesus gathered children and instructed the adults to become like them. Kids and students have something significant to teach adults about what it means to have faith in Christ. The Israelites gathered around rituals, remembering and celebrating what God had done, so that they might “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” (Ps. 78:4). The 5:1 ratio might not be named in the Bible, but the heart of it was certainly lived out!