High School: Why & How?
We are passionate about the students in our high schools. Our greatest natural resource resides in our school system for 10 months each year. This human resource will eventually affect all of us as they move to take their place within our country and within our churches. They are learning many of the characteristics and making many personal decisions that will greatly determine their future part in this world. The high school years are not a time of sitting idly by waiting to make the important decisions “When you grow up”. These are years of growth, questioning, choosing values, and trying out those wings of independence. It makes sense, therefore, to give a great deal of attention to this group. We can be a positive factor in the lives of many of these students.
The Christian world needs to pay attention to who this group is – What they want, what they need, the decisions they are making, and how we can support them best in accepting and maintaining a Christian worldview that impacts their behaviour.
Information that we need to pay attention to has been published by a number of sources. Knowledge like this can either discourage or empower us to act. At Inter-Varsity we choose to let it empower us. Read some of these statistics and comments below and see what I mean.
1. There are over a million and a half students in Canadian high schools. (Stats Canada)
Regular Programs for Youth - Full-time equivalent (fte)
Statistics Canada, Elementary-Secondary Education Statistics Project (ESESP).
2. Teens (15-19 years old) are not necessarily engaging Christianity at all. Consider this: The Project Teen Canada 2000 survey revealed that the number of teens attending a weekly church service is equal to the population of a city the size of Halifax. That’s about 400,000 teens. Compare that to the population of a city like Vancouver – 1.3 million. That’s the number of teens in Canada who never or hardly ever goes to church.
Table Two: Canadian Teen Religious Service Attendance: 1992-2008
Weekly Monthly Seldom Never
1992 18 12 46 24
2000 22 12 27 39
2008 21 12 20 47
Source: Reginald Bibby’s Project Teen Canada data sets
3. For students who profess faith this faith is under great pressure as they move from high school to further education.
Graduating from God: Most teenagers who follow Christ feel that they are a minority in their public high schools and college campuses. Teen Mania garnered front page attention with an article in the New York Times about their Acquire the Fire conferences seeking to rally Christian teenagers into not abandoning the faith. Citing a statistic from Thomas Rainer's "The Bridger Generation," many have been alarmed that only 4% of those in youth groups stay in the faith as they move on to college. Barna has published statistics that show only 5% of teenagers are "Bible-believing" Christians. The methodology of both polls has been questioned, but church leaders agree that the number of students who "graduate from God" is quite alarming. Denominational reports show a 40-80% drop off when students go to college. (New York Times October 6, 2006 A1; IJN Regional Forum discussion)
Leaving Church in College: This fall, thousands of students will leave their high school youth groups to head to college. If the statistics are correct, most will never darken the door of a church once they set foot on campus. Only 20% of students who attended church regularly in high school will do so in college. Only 10% of students who identify themselves as Christians will attend church regularly while at school. (Comment Magazine June 29, 2007).
Note – although these are U.S. statistics I would say that as I travel around the country this is also the situation for many of our Canadian teens.
4. The public’s perception of Christianity should be carefully considered as we work to spread the Gospel.
Unchrisitan: A new study by the Barna group confirms what many have felt to be true - many young adults today are more skeptical and resistant to Christianity than they were 10 years ago. The results are chronicled in the book, Unchristian, by Dave Kinneman of the Barna Group and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project. The research concludes that Americans ages 16-29 are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Christianity. In fact, only 16% said they have a "favorable impression" of Christianity. Only 3% have a favorable view toward "evangelicals." The most common terms to describe Christians are judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%). When asked about the positive attributes of Christianity, the best impression was "Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%). Good values (76%) and friendly (71%) were two other positive descriptors. Only 55% said Christianity is a faith they respect. The most common perception about Christianity is that it is "anti-homosexual," a belief held by 91% of respondents. (Barna.org September 24, 2007)
5. Inter-Varsity’s campus work is focused on academic institutions and we, therefore, need to be aware that many of the students we can reach in high school do not go on to further education and we lose our ability to reach them. In any given school, depending on its location, 20% to 80% move on the further education. This means that it is crucial that we focus on this age group and encourage them to consider the claims of Christ.
The reality of the information above is staggering. Combine the numbers, the reality of teens engaging the church, the number of young people leaving the church, the public’s perception of us and the limited time frame for reaching many students through our ministry and you begin to realize that the task is one that can only be accomplished with many dedicated staff and the help of God.
There is also another reality that faces us. The public high schools are not always supportive of our attempts to reach students within the school. However, we believe that this is the best place to work with students. They spend almost 200 days a year and 6 hours a day at school. This is where Christian students need to be challenged to live out their Christianity, taught how to do this, and supported as they try to represent Christ in their school.
For this reason we want our staff to make significant contact with Christian students to help them with this daunting task.
We have adopted, as our theme, a verse from Micah 6:8 – “Seek Justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God”.
Public Schools are as the name suggests “public places”. The standards used in these schools are meant to honour the diversity found not only in the school but in the community. Because of this, high school administration and staff try to assure that students will not be subjected to proselytizing. To many this word suggests the aggressive, coercive and argumentative approach used by many religious groups. It also, many times, uses the positive appeal of adults to reach and convert students. Unfortunately this is the opinion many educators have of religious groups and sometimes it is justified. I hope we all believe that this kind of action used in a public school with impressionable teenagers lacks integrity. However, God has given us a way to represent Him that is totally acceptable to most educators. It is summed up in Micah 6:8 but you can also look at the following passages to know that representing God not only includes discussion but also action. In fact action “fertilizes” the entire community and creates an environment that is open to the claims of God.
I like the way Eugene Peterson describes Christians in "The Sermon on the Mount" as Salt and Light, “….salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth…and the light, bringing out the God-colours in the world”. Mat. 5:13-14 (The Message)
In schools that deal with violence every day Jesus says, “don’t hit back” and “love your enemy” Mat. 5:38-44
In schools where so many get ignored Jesus says, “Live graciously and generously towards others….” Mat. 5:48
In schools where anger is a norm Jesus says, “Forgive” Mat. 6:14
In schools were “put-downs” are a way of life Jesus says, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults” Mat. 7:1
When most teens think only of themselves Jesus says, “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” He follows this statement with an incredible summary – “Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get”. Mat. 7:12
As Jesus concludes his comments in the “Sermon on the Mount” he says this about his teaching, “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions for your life….They are foundational words, words to build a life on”. Mat. 7:24
Again in Mat. 22:37-40 when Jesus is asked to identify the greatest commandment he responds by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself”. Again he follows this with an incredible summary – “These two commandments are pegs; everything in God’s Law and Prophets hangs from them”. (all above references were taken from The Message)
In Mat. 25:31-46 when the Son of Man comes to separate all nations into sheep and goats he does it based on who helped the hungry, thirsty, homeless, shivering, sick and those in prison.
Mat. 5:16 ….let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (NIV) “shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (The Message)
To be sure, law (works) is not the source of rightness, but it is forever the course of rightness. (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, ( p. 142)
Our belief should affect our lifestyle and a life lived well is an open door to conversations about God.
Non-Christians are un-interested in what we believe especially when our own lives don’t express what the verses above describe. Shane Claiborne in “Irresistible Revolution” says, “I knew we were not going to win the masses to Christianity until we began to live it” (p. 72).
So we are in schools that don’t want us to openly try and convert students. My response to this is “No Problem” because we still have so much to do that Jesus has taken great pain to explain to us in scripture. Maybe what Jesus is saying is that until we actually do what he tells us we can’t expect much to happen. If our lives don’t show Jesus then maybe it’s not very important what we say.
Think about this – if we can teach our Christian students to live “incarnationally” (i.e. act like Jesus would if he were walking the halls of our schools) don’t we think we can trust Mat. 5:16 to happen? Wouldn’t a discussion with a person be so much more effective if they had already seen Jesus through our actions?
So how do we in Inter-Varsity want to see the high school ministry played out?
We believe all people are looking for answers to life’s tough questions. We believe that schools are a reflection of their community and have many needs. – TOUGH QUESTIONS AND NEED - Can there be better reasons? As mentioned earlier, the high school years are not a time to sit idly by waiting to make the important decisions “when you grow up”. These are years of growth, questioning, choosing values, and trying out those wings of independence.
We believe that the example that Jesus set is one that addresses life’s difficult issues and helps encourage us to care for all those around us.
Christianity, lived well, makes the world a better place to be even for those who reject it.
WHY DO WE DO THIS?
- We believe we help transform lives and make schools a better place to be. That is why we have chosen Micah 6:8 as our guide, “Seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God”. This is the way we want our Christian students to respond to the schools in which they spend almost 200 days a year and 6 hours a day.
- We believe that God is not satisfied being the top priority among a list of priorities. We believe God wants to be a priority in all areas – that he wants into every “nook and cranny” of our busy lives.
- Our bottom line is to bring the love of God into our schools through the lives of our students.
WHAT DO OUR GROUPS DO?
- We welcome all students and staff to join our groups and service activities.
- We pray for our schools and study the Bible. Our Bible studies are interactive, non-confrontational discussions that are intended to encourage personal exploration.
- We discuss issues critical to youth.
- We have fun.
- We challenge one another with what we learn.
- WE CARE FOR OUR SCHOOL, COMMUNITY AND WORLD!
WHAT DOES THIS CARING LOOK LIKE?
- Leadership – through character development and proper use of influence and faith
- Service – through charity, peer support, and acts of kindness
- Relationships – through caring for self and others
- Special Issues – through social justice, environmental care, response to emergency needs, and fostering cross cultural and multi-ethnic relationships
WHAT DO OUR STAFF DO?
- Guide, challenge, encourage and invest in students
- Coach student leaders in citizenship and service
- Offer skills and abilities to the wider school community (i.e. coaching, directing, sponsoring, tutoring, supervising etc.)