Group, a journal for evangelical youth workers, released in its May-June issue some more of the findings from a survey it took last summer among some 20,000 teenagers from church youth groups who participated in the various work camps organized by Group. This is not a random sample of Christian teens, but it does provide some interesting hints as to where ministry needs to focus among this important group. (Remember, more Americans make a decision to follow Jesus during their early teen years than at any other point in the life cycle.)
Respondents were given a list of 20 needs and asked to rank them on a seven-point scale. The two that ranked the highest, not surprisingly, have to do with sexuality. "I need help with girlfriend/boyfriend issues" and "I need help sorting out ... sexual activity, gender issues, homosexuality, etc." This is perhaps the most pressing developmental issue for the high school age group today. It can no longer be assumed to be something that is largely a concern among young adults.
"I need help resolving conflicts," ranked almost as high. The Millennial generation has inherited a very conflicted world from the typically self-centered perspective on life among their parents' Baby Boom generation. And this area of conflict is not unrelated to the top two items above.
Other needs that ranked above the mid-line in the estimate of these teenagers include time management and self-discipline, healthy lifestyle, receiving forgiveness "for things I have done," decisions about morality, substance abuse, "more and better" friends, "dealing with the pain I feel in life," being overwhelmed with commitments/options, dealing with depression, and help in making life choices about education, work, marriage, etc.
The lowest-ranked need, almost a full point behind the others: "I need help building a positive relationship with God." I do not think this indicates that spirituality is a low priority with these teens. Remember, they were on a mission trip organized by a local church in conjunction with Group when they filled out the questionnaire. The needs to better understand the Christian faith and deal with doubts ranked higher, so it appears that these are teens who have decided to follow Jesus and are now attempting to apply that fundamental, directional choice to the real stuff of everyday life.
This is information that pastors, church boards and youth workers need to pay attention to. Key question: Is your youth group helping kids deal with these issues or not?