By Jeremy Rivers, Christian Post Op-Ed Contributor
The problem of the “Christmas Christian” is one that’s troubled church leaders for decades. As a former youth pastor, I looked forward to seeing new faces in my youth group around the holiday season. However, once Christmas passed, those “Christmas Christians” disappeared. Ninety percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, but it doesn’t translate into greater engagement with their faith the rest of the year. This is especially true for students, who are increasingly distancing themselves from their faith.
The problem of inconsistent church attendance is symptomatic of a greater issue – that young Americans simply don’t feel connected to their faith.
I think the key to helping students connect with their faith is allowing them to embrace aspects of their faith that might be challenging or uncomfortable. While youth group pizza parties and movie nights can be effective in attracting students to the church, they should be paired with experiences that take the students out of their spiritual comfort zone.
In my experience working with young people, I’ve seen their craving for a faith that is deep and real, and a desire to better understand their Christian identity. We have to push them to understand the raw reality of their faith, especially when that’s hard. They must examine their faith honestly, wrestle with what it means to them, and think about where they fit among thousands of years of tradition and history.
After my time as a youth pastor, I was a personal trainer. Both careers taught me that true strength comes from a healthy relationship with discomfort. You have to place the appropriate amount of resistance on a muscle, and then push. That’s what a faith journey does. When their faith raises uncomfortable questions or demands an examination of identity, students have the opportunity to embrace this discomfort and emerge as stronger Christians. The journey of faith is one of encountering and then engaging with challenge, which ultimately produces resilience and a richer faith.
Romans elaborates on this idea: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”