WASHINGTON - A new nationwide youth push has evangelicals asking, "When did we stop trusting our youth?" America's future rests on more than the next generation itself, but on the nation's belief in the capacity of our youth to do great things, says one international ministry leader.
Timothy Eldred, executive director of Christian Endeavor International, hopes the adult generation will do more than give lip service with "I believe in youth."
"Most everyone says 'I believe in young people; I believe God has equipped young people,'" noted Eldred. "Really?" he asked, with a hint of skepticism.
"What are you letting them do? What are they leading? If they don't lead the church, they leave the church," he said.
Youth leaders estimate that 65 to 94 percent of high school students stop attending church after graduation. A 2006 Barna study revealed that “twentysomethings” have significantly lower levels of church attendance compared to older adults. More specifically, 61 percent of today's young adults had been churched at one point during their teen years but are now spiritually disengaged (not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying).
"You can't argue with numbers," said Eldred, who began looking at statistics some two years ago with a group of other ministry leaders.
When facing such staggering numbers, "you have to say, 'we've got a lot of expertise, we've got a lot of experience, but we don't got a whole lot to show for it,'" said the ministry director.
And while more teens and young adults are leaving the Church, the young generation faces more media influence and a sexualized culture than any other generation, according to Teen Mania founder Ron Luce. They are also the target of multi-billion dollar industries and a resource to be expended and to drive business, Eldred noted.
"How can we depend on them to buy our stuff, build our brands, watch our movies, and work our businesses, yet fail to see how vital, how precious, and how capable they really are? When did we stop trusting them?" he asked at a press conference on Thursday.
Eldred and a group of concerned evangelicals involved in youth ministry launched Pray21 on Thursday to mobilize both the adult and youth generations to respond to what they call a "crisis" through prayer.
Prayer for 21 days is long enough to start a new habit, short enough for youth to get involved, and practical enough for tens of thousands of churches across the country to join.
And rather than a prayer for youth, Pray21 calls for prayers with youth.
Adults can be praying for youth on a consistent basis, said Eldred, but the youth aren't always aware of that. Youths are seeking relationship and the prayer initiative encourages adults to invest in time to pray together with the younger generation.
Pray21 is a trust-building youth initiative, Eldred explained, that "connects adults and young people in a prayer partnership to awaken belief, to listen, and to accept young people’s mission to transform this world."
At the end of the 21-day period, Eldred can't predict what each participating church will look like or what new movement the prayers might initiate. But he's confident that churches will see "youth in ministry," not "youth ministry."
"Youth ministry tends to be what we do for and to young people. The result of Pray21 is what young people do," he said. "Significant difference," he further noted.
Pray21 will launch on Sept. 9 and is planned to continue as an annual event.
"We are encouraging activism, not just activities, to bring about a paradigm shift, a new mindset," said Eldred. "If we can get them deeply engaged in personal ministry during their high school years, they are unlikely to drift away."