The statistics are alarming: Fewer teenagers attend church today than ever. If we don’t reach them soon, we will face a spiritual crisis.
On the way home from church one Sunday several years ago my brother, Ralph, became an unassuming hero. He pulled out of the church parking lot, following a car with two teenage girls in it. About a mile down the road, a pick-up truck ran a stop sign and slammed into the side of the girls’ car.
Instantly, the car exploded. The driver, 16-year-old Ashley, was thrown from the vehicle and killed. The other girl, 14-year-old Amy Cifranic, was trapped inside the burning vehicle.
Ralph jumped from his car and pried open the door of the burning vehicle. He grabbed Amy by the belt loop and managed to drag her from the car. Soon the paramedics arrived and took her to the hospital.
When I called to congratulate my brother on the rescue, I asked him: “What were you thinking? I mean, what was going through your mind as you approached the car?” I still remember his response.
“I didn’t do anything that anyone else in my position would not have done. When the car is on fire, you do whatever you have to do to get the girl out!”
If we saw a car explode in front of us, the shock of what we had just seen would stun us. Few among us would simply drive by and act as if nothing had happened. Yet many Christians are standing by watching flames engulf our teens and doing nothing to rescue them.
I’m here to tell you, the car is on fire-and it’s up to us to do something about it.
Nation at a Crossroads
I’m not writing just to move you to care a little bit. A pattern is developing right under our noses here in America that demands our attention as Christians.
It is a well-documented fact that the percentage of Bible-based believers (evangelicals) has been steadily decreasing since the Builder generation. In his book The Bridger Generation, Thom S. Rainer gives the following statistics:
Our nation has the proud heritage of being founded on Christian principles. Many of our Founding Fathers were godly men. For two centuries we have enjoyed a society in which the moral imperatives from Scripture have kept some restraint on our lifestyles.
However, as the majority of the population has ceased to hold core Bible-based beliefs, societal standards and guidelines have changed. There is no longer a potent majority who screams loudly when traditional biblical values are violated.
Let’s look at the influence of the Boomers on society. As a result of their shift away from godly principles, we now have:
If we are already facing such evidence of moral depravity and anti-Christian sentiment, what will our society be like with a population that is only 4 percent evangelical?
Imagine a society that mocks the fact that “under God” was ever in our Pledge of Allegiance. Imagine “In God We Trust” taken off our money. Imagine all references to Christ and His cross taken off all emblems and city logos (as is already happening).
Imagine a world in which a pastor can go to jail for saying homosexuality is wrong (as recently happened in Sweden). The current generation of 12- to 17-year-olds is the largest group viewing porn on the Web. What percentage of their marriages will stay together?
Where will this new generation take us? What sort of world will our children and grandchildren grow up in? Will we be guilty of allowing ourselves to be the last generation in America that had the benefit of a strong Christian ethic in our moral codes? Will the sacrifices of our forefathers be for naught for the generations that are to come?
We Must Act Now
Studies have shown repeatedly that nearly 80 percent of people who come to Christ do so before the age of 21. Something happens to us at that age. All of a sudden, we think we know it all.
What does that mean for us? If we do not reach our youth now, in 10 years we will have a whole new set of challenges in America.
The time before our children leave their childhood years and become young adults is the most moldable time in their lives. During these years morals and values are being shaped. Unfortunately, they are often being shaped by those in the media industry who are motivated by the need to make a profit rather than a desire to promote moral standards.
Many adults know that kids are having a hard time, but they don’t fully realize what the enemy is doing to destroy kids. We all need to know the world our kids live in so we can be a part of the answer.
The good news is we do know. We can do something. In fact, we can do a lot-if we will.
There is a holy urgency burning in my soul to capture the heart of this generation now while there is still an openness to the gospel. I believe the next five to seven years will determine the direction they take.
This is our moment, our defining moment. What we do in this season will determine the next 100 years of American history. The actions we take now will determine whether or not America is still the main mission-sending force in the world. Because American culture dominates the world in so many ways, the fate of millions here in America and around the globe is in our hands.
What can we do? How can we fight the effects of MTV, Hollywood and the music industry? We need a strategic battle plan.
Through prayer and discussions with a number of leaders across the land, I have devised what I believe is an effective battle plan to rescue the current generation of youth. The plan contains three phases:
The first phase is a massive awareness and engagement campaign. People in the body of Christ must be made aware that the need is urgent and that they can do something to make a difference in their own communities.
The awareness campaign is designed to inform the people of God so they will be moved with compassion to get involved in reaching teens. In addition to the media (both Christian and secular) that are helping to make teenagers the issue of the day, the book Battle Cry for a Generation and associated study guide have been released to help both leaders and lay people understand the crisis and what they can do about it. The study guide is designed for small groups such as Sunday school classes or cell groups to go through together so that people can get a clear picture of what they can do to help.
September has been designated Youth Emphasis Month by many churches across America, and one day in the month, September 11, has been set aside as National Youth Sunday. This is a chance for us to show teens that we as Christians love them and want to make a difference in their lives. Many churches are using it as an outreach to all the families of teens in their community. The parents of youth are being invited to church on that Sunday to reinforce the fact that the church is not just preachers but also problem-solvers for families that need answers.
The broader plan is for 100,000 churches (both pastors and lay people) to catch the vision and become passionately committed to rescuing this generation. If they do, we can turn the current situation around within five years. Just think: If 100,000 churches willing to act as “hospitals” for a broken generation doubled their youth ministries every year for the next five years, and the average group started with 20 students, in five years’ time, we would be collectively discipling 32 million teens! We can do this!
Phase II. The second phase of the battle plan involves equipping youth pastors and workers. Even with all that has been done in the name of youth ministry for the last 20-30 years, we are still losing this generation. It seems that no matter how hard we have been working, the enemy has been working harder.
To deeply influence this generation in a profound way we need to change what we are doing. We must learn new ways to reach and disciple teens. We must plan to double the size of our youth groups every year for at least the next five years. Information about materials that have been designed to help youth workers do this, including books, planning guides, discipleship materials and Battle Cry Leadership Summit events, is available at www.battlecry.com.
Phase III. This phase involves capturing the hearts of our teens. With all the media, music, movies and cultural pressure bombarding them every waking moment, we must find ways to isolate them from these influences long enough to grab their attention and help them see how God wants to dramatically change their lives.
One way is to stage mass events geared to the younger generation. Weekend-long meetings such as Acquire the Fire youth conferences, Dare 2 Share conferences and Battle Cry stadium events are designed to help teens focus on God so He can capture their hearts. It is imperative that every adult reading this article (not just youth pastors) load up his car with teens and get them to one of these events if we are to change not only individual lives but also the course of this nation.
A Call to Arms
Everyone who calls himself a follower of Christ is needed to win this battle for the hearts of a new generation. We must rally around our youth and transform our churches into hospitals for the brokenhearted. Every mom, dad, grandparent, teacher, pastor, senior and 20-something can play a part.
Even if you do not feel called to youth ministry, reach out to a young person near you before he is beyond reach. The urgency of the moment compels every one of us to grab a teen and pull him out of the fire. Do not wait for your youth pastor to do it all. Go to him now and insist on helping in some way. Can you love? Listen? Smile? Go out for a Coke?
We all have known that kids are in trouble, but for the most part we have not known what to do to rescue them. Now we have a plan, and if we all get involved we can avoid imminent tragedy for our nation.
Leaders from many different streams-Joyce Meyer, Kay Arthur, Chuck Colson, Jack Hayford, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, John Maxwell, Jack Graham (former president of Southern Baptist Convention)-are willing to use their voices to alert the adults in the body of Christ that we all must get involved. Denominations and their leaders from across the spectrum have indicated that they are ready to get their pastors and lay people on board. This Battle Cry idea has turned into a movement as leaders and lay people have continued to join the Battle Cry Coalition, knowing we are engaged in a battle we dare not lose.
Thousands of concerned parents and leaders are coming to the rescue, but that is not enough. It is going to take all of us. It is not only my job to rescue this generation. It is not only your youth pastor’s or pastor’s job. It is the job of the body of Christ. We must study it and understand it deeply so it will thoroughly penetrate the way we think about our Christianity.
As a layperson there is much you can do to rescue the teens in your community. One practical step you can take is to organize a group of people and go through the Battle Cry materials with them.
The materials are full of practical ideas about what you can do for your own children as well as what you can do to influence the teens in your community in a practical way. Ask your pastor today if you can start a group. Bring the materials to the leaders of your church so they can stay informed.
Whether you are a pastor, youth worker or layperson, log on to www.battlecry.com and join the Battle Cry Coalition. You will learn how you can be an important part of rescuing those who are battered by the world and will receive free materials and tips for reaching the teens in your community. You will be part of an army of love coming to the aid of teenage America.
We can rescue our teens. It is not too late. Let it be said of us that when we saw a generation headed for destruction we did everything we could to save them.
A burning car demands our response. It demands that we go out of our way to help. It demands that we get out of our own car, out of our comfort zone, and take a risk. It compels us to do something.
This generation is on fire. It is burning right before our eyes. Will you be the next unassuming hero to rescue some of the 33 million teens caught in a burning society?
Ron Luce is the founder and president of Teen Mania Ministries. He is also the author of numerous books, including his most recent, Battle Cry for a Generation (Cook Communications), and worship leader for five Teen Mania worship albums. He hosts a weekly television program for teenagers called Acquire the Fire that is broadcast on several Christian networks.
Ron Luce, founder of one of the nation’s largest youth ministries, is calling for a national rescue of today’s teenagers.
Many Christian leaders consider Ron Luce the premier evangelist to the youth of America. But the president and founder of Teen Mania (TM), a nondenominational youth organization that has influenced millions of young people worldwide, was at one time “a ragtag heathen” teenager growing up in California.
Raised in a broken home, Luce ran off at age 15 and became involved in drugs and alcohol.
“I grew up attending assorted dead, boring churches,” Luce, 44, told Charisma. “I wasn’t saved and I didn’t love God.”
But all that changed in 1978 during his junior year of high school in Fresno. “A friend invited me to church and the people there were singing with all of their hearts,” he recalls. “It blew me away. I was in church my whole life and I had never seen that.
“I went back the next week. I got on fire for the Lord, and I have been ever since,” continues Luce, who was saved at Belmont Believers Church in Fresno. “I was a 16-year-old party animal who got totally turned on to Jesus.”
Since Luce started TM in 1986, the ministry has been highly effective at reaching teens. Featuring state-of-the-art multimedia, live drama, music and biblical teaching, Acquire the Fire (ATF) events have drawn 2 million youth since 1991. This year, 260,000 teens are expected to attend ATF in 33 cities nationwide.
“It’s no namby-pamby, ‘Kumbaya’ gospel presentation,” Luce notes. “It’s, ‘Give your all to Jesus.'”
TM also has a 650-student post-high school academy, in which “interns” receive one to two years of leadership and Bible training at the ministry’s 472-acre campus in Garden Valley, Texas. Since 1988, nearly 4,500 teens have gone through the program.
In addition, TM’s Global Expeditions have taken more than 49,200 youngsters to other nations. This summer, more than 4,100 teens traveled to 27 countries.
“We have seen lots of miracles, churches planted and churches doubled,” Luce says. “We’ve had many teens who have led people to Christ in villages on the other side of the world.”
Luce has been passionate to reach teenagers since his conversion. He and his wife, Katie, planned to live on the mission field after college because they had a heart for kids and missions.
“The Lord spoke to our hearts about the young people in America,” recounts Luce, who has two teenage daughters and a 10-year-old son. “We had no money, supporters or contacts when we started. … It was me, Katie, our Chevy Citation, and a dream to raise up an army of young people who would change the world.”
Luce realizes the odds are against fulfilling his dream. But the determined preacher believes there’s an answer. “We need to make sure that our youth pastors and staffs have a strategy to get out and get the lost,” he says. “We need outreach-oriented youth programs.”
He adds that in order for youth ministry to be effective, “the philosophy of ministry has to change.”
“Youth ministry is not the youth pastor’s job,” Luce says. “It’s our job as the body of Christ to reach this generation.”
That’s Luce’s battle cry. “It’s going to take the involvement of all of us to win this generation,” he insists. “We have to do it now because now is when we have the window to reach them.”