Why Church is Still Important for Teenagers

by Charlotte Long, Youth Ministries

We (myself included) fall into the trap of thinking Sunday School is just for little kids. And this is because we think of Sunday School as craft time - as gluing little cotton ball sheep to a poster board and memorizing bible verses and singing. And it's true that in some places it is that, and it is good and right for that church; or it's what their resources and volunteers can pull together, and God bless them for that. But here at Holy Comforter, we have a deeply spiritual and mature curriculum for children called "Godly Play" and it stems out the Montessori-based Catechesis of the Good Shepherd curriculum which I grew up with. The most beautiful part of it, in my opinion, is that it starts from the knowledge that the child has their own, unique relationship with God already: that it is not always our (the adults') job to set that relationship upon them, like some kind of ill-fitting armor. In fact, Catechesis, and by extension Godly Play, insists that the child has something to teach us about God. We only need to provide the children with an open, quiet, nurturing space to discover the nature of Love.

Believe it or not, the clergy and I have tried to make sure that this dynamic is a trademark of the older grades, too. These days, youth have plenty of space to prove their intellect, their can-do, and their work ethic. In fact, their lives are veritably packed to the gills with all that. Very rarely, however, do they have the space to delve into why they are on the planet, how to Love radically, or who they are in relationship with the Holy. That sort of thing is just not a built-in given to their lives, even if they pray before meals.

Oh, wait. Yes it is! Sunday Morning. Or at least, Sunday morning can be that.

I'm going to go ahead and make a bold statement, here: spiritual exploration makes our teens better students. Delving into a relationship with God can include meditation, prayer, inquiry and journaling. All of these practices have been known to increase the brain's gray matter density, which can reduce sensitivity to pain, enhance your immune system, help you regulate difficult emotions, and relieve stress. Not to mention that any daily rigorous practice of the above has proven helpful to people with depression and anxiety, cancer, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. TRUTH.

And a spiritual community that can help you through difficult times or that you can rely on for God-centric advice is *crucial* to a young person's development. We care about role models so much in education, sports, and leadership. We should care equally about spiritual role models! Much of that clicks in the teen years, or right afterwards. For instance: my childhood Sunday school teacher had always seemed to me wise, solemn and sort of magical when I was little. But it wasn't until I was in High School and she attended our youth Mission Trip as an adult chaperone on that I found out she was also hilarious, smart as a whip, full of energy and loved me deeply. All those years, she had been loving me, and I had never been in close enough proximity to her to know it. She made God's role in my life seem bigger. She made spirituality and kindness and prayer seem *essential* and even fun.

We must not sell short the gift of bringing our children to church. Or, as I know the case may be, MAKING them come to church! It is hard to see with the "God-lens" the whole picture of how a spiritual practice will affect a young person. They may not feel or understand the way it has nestled in their hearts for a long time. I know for myself that I am still coming to realizations about that.

As Anne Lamott says,

"Teenagers who do not go to church are adored by God, but they don't get to meet some of the people who love God back." 

"It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life." 
         Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith