I quit doing youth work because of Mark Utopos.*
It wasn’t Mark Utopos in particular that made me quit. It was the fact that although I saw many youth give their lives to the Lord and be zealous for Him in high school, too many of them came back within six months of graduation having dropped their faith. Annie, James, Roger, Juanita, Bill, Kate, Becky… These were kids that I had worked with closely. They were the victims of “transition-fail.”
Mark Utopos was very involved in his faith in high school – he went to church every Sunday with his family and participated in our youth group every week on Wednesday night. We had a great relationship and an excellent program with 60 youth in attendance. Mark was one of our youth leaders. He did charitable service and had peers who never got into significant trouble. He had tremendous support from his parents and pastor and a bible-reading plan that worked for him.
After graduation, he was gradually stripped of every system of support that he had for living the Christian life. This was not because he chose to abandon them – most of the supports simply evaporated.
Mark went to college and didn’t anticipate having to replace his support system. He had lost his mentor, his regularly scheduled youth program, his charitable service connections, and his Christian peers. He didn’t feel comfortable attending a church where he didn’t know anyone. He did not intend to walk away from his faith. “It just happened.”
Yet, most of the church is puzzled about why youth lose their faith.
When sending the Apollo astronauts to the moon, NASA recognized the need for providing a life-support-system for them. Good youth workers recognize the same thing is true for young people transitioning from one environment or program to another.
Youth who are in transition from middle school to high school, from high school to college, or from college to “real life,” are candidates for transition-fail. One of the most helpful things grandparents can do is tell our grandchildren about some of our own difficulties we had when we were navigating life’s transitions. Those stories may encourage them to think about what is coming up for them and how they can guard against losing their faith.
P.S. I did not stay out of youth work for long. Once I saw why transition-fail happened, I started training youth workers on how to prevent it!
* Name changed for privacy purposes.
This article is excerpted from Grandly, copyright © 2023 Grandly Missions, Inc. Grandly has launched an online seminar for grandparents who are seeking to pass on their faith to their grandchildren more effectively. To learn more or to register for the seminar visit https://grandly.org/doitgrandly/.
Top image above: aerial view of a crowd of people in motion blur, photo from Bigstock.com, © by Madrabothair, stock photo ID: 113324300. Used with permission.
Mike Shaughnessy is a lifelong member of the Servants of the Word, an international ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He is a prolific writer. He has written extensively about youth work and currently leads Grandly, a ministry helping grandparents pass on their faith to their grandchildren. He lives in Lansing, Michigan USA.