Friday, October 9, 2009

What Can Churches Do To Reach Teens?

Many churches today are having a very difficult time reaching teenagers with the message of Jesus Christ. Not only are they struggling to get teens from outside the church to discover Jesus, they are also not having much success keeping the teens who grew up in the church and should already be committed to Jesus. While the majority of churches are struggling to reach teens, some churches are succeeding in this area. What is the difference between those churches that are effectively reaching teens and those that are not? I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this question. Based on my experience in reaching teens and in working with a variety of churches, I have come up with these suggestions for how churches can reach teens more effectively.

1. Teens will attend a church that makes them feel loved.
This does not mean the church has to agree with everything teens do. Nor does it mean that churches cannot preach strong messages about sin that apply to teens. But it does mean that churches demonstrate love and acceptance to teens. Teens are struggling with a lot of issues. Their lack of emotional maturity will result in them doing things they should not do. Knowing there is a group of people that love them no matter what is very important to teens. They will go to a church that shows such love.

2. Teens will attend a church that proves love by its actions.
Teens are used to being told that someone loves them, but they see very little actual evidence of that love. Parents tell teens they love them, and then proceed to get a divorce because they love their new girlfriend or boyfriend more. Teens go too far sexually in a relationship because they are told they are loved, but once the other person gets what they want from the teen, the relationship ends and the teen is left wondering what happened to love. Churches say they love teens, but then fail to do anything that proves that love. If churches really love teens, they are going to have to put actions behind their words.

3. Teens will attend a church that speaks their “language.”
Teens have a number of ways in which they communicate, but the two that adults misunderstand most often is their love of music and their love of technology. Teens love music. Teens communicate in music. Teens use lyrics for their Facebook status and MySpace updates. Teens use music to communicate their feelings about relationships and events. Teens generally like music that is more upbeat than most adults, but more important than the beat is that music has deep meaning and communicates something important. In church related music, teens want to talk “to” God, not just “about” God. Churches that want to reach teens will probably need to speed the music tempo up, but they will also need to select songs that speak powerfully about how God can interact in their daily lives.
Teens also love technology. They have been immersed in various video gadgets almost since birth. They have a hard time learning and communicating to others without the aid of technology. Churches that want to communicate with teens are going to have to learn to use technology both to reach out to teens and to help teens worship and learn.

4. Teens will attend a church that lets teens be involved in leading.
Teens are not interested in just sitting in the back pew and watching. Teens want to be involved in leading the music, taking the offering, saying the prayers and teaching the classes. Though they will need guidance in these types of leadership areas due to their maturity level, teens can lead effectively in the church. Churches that do not let teens lead will not keep teens very long.

5. Teens will attend a church that makes sermons and Bible studies relevant to their real life experience.
People of all ages find it difficult to be faithful to church when the sermons and Bible studies do not seem relevant to real life. Teens find it almost impossible. This is why many churches cannot keep the teens that grew up in their churches. The topics covered during times of worship and Bible study seem to have little bearing on real life experiences. Pastors and Bible study leaders need to think carefully about how they teach the truth of the Word. They do need to give solid doctrine and historical Biblical context, but they also must have up to date applications of how that teaching impacts real life. Churches that fail to do this will not only lose their teens, but will eventually enter into a state of decline as people of all ages look for a church that is more relevant to life.

By following these principles, churches can reach out more effectively to teens and help them discover a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Learn more about reaching young people in Dr. Terry Dorsett's book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.


  1. Pastor Dave BentleyOctober 9, 2009 at 9:38 PM

    Well pray that churches will put these principles into pracitce

  2. Interesting paper, good job Terry.

  3. Maybe "attend a church" is the wrong way of looking at teens. If plugging them in to the service, speaking their language, and engaging the issues they deal with is how to maintain their loyalty, then maybe they have to be shown that church isn't something to be merely "attended" but actively lived out.

  4. Good point. But if we don't get teens in church to begin with, how will they actively live out their faith? Perhaps I'll do a follow up blog on how to help move young people from attending a community of faith to living out their faith in the community. Stay tuned . . . .

  5. Well communicated, Terry.

  6. Everyone should know that Dr. T practices what he preaches. I've been to his church many times and there are like three rows of teens who come, mostly without their parents. And some group of teens are almost always helping lead the worship service. And you can tell Terry loves them. It comes through in his preaching and in his interactions with them. I wish someone like him had been my pastor when I was growing up.

  7. I like this.

  8. Good Job Dr. T. I agree that it is imperative that the teens feel a part of the community of the church. The church has to focus on keeping the community diverse not only to accept and love teenagers, but also accept and love those outside of our church community that may be a little different.

  9. Right on the mark this is why I feel blessed to work with you, Kay, , Becky & John because you understand what it takes to reach teens for Christ. Thank you for allowing me to join in. I love our youth.

  10. we have a wonderful group of teens in Faith Community and you can see the spritual growth in them and they are our future church. we are blessed to have our teens. all of them.

  11. This blog post was also posted at Despising None blog.

  12. Looking for practical ways to put some of the principles in this blog post into action? Purchase my book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. The first part of the book explains why bivocational ministry is biblical, normal and missional. The second part of the book explains how to mobilize the laity to do high level ministry in a team setting with the pastor so that the church can be effective in reaching its community for Christ.
    The book is published by Crossbooks and you can buy the book directly from them at:

    The book is also available on, Barnes and and a many other online bookstores.
    If you live in Central Vermont, you can purchase a copy at the Faith Community Church in Barre, VT.

  13. Technology and tradition will always clash if the people involved doesn't know how to balance life.