Four Misconceptions about Today’s Teens

February 1, 2011

Evangelizing teenagers may be the most challenging thing churches do. According to a widely cited statistic, only 4 percent of teens are Bible believing Christians—an all-time low. While that finding is seriously questionedby youth ministry professionals, everyone agrees that reaching teens is hard work.

My own first attempt at youth ministry was a dismal failure. As a seminary student, I did a youth internship at church of about 150 people. A dozen young people showed up for the first meeting; not a bad start. But by the end of the year, the group was down to just four teens. I failed, in part, because I didn’t understand what teenagers value or how to relate to them.

study by Barna Research Group gives encouraging insights for anyone trying to reach the teenagers in their family, church, or community. Based on that report, here are four common misconceptions about what teens are looking for in adult relationships.

Misconception 1: Teens Don’t Respect Family Members

Exactly the opposite is true. Even though teens were not allowed to name parents as role models in this survey, family members were cited a whopping 37 percent of the time. If you have nieces, nephews, cousins, or grandchildren who are teens, they may respect you more than you realize.

Misconception 2: Teens Want Adults to Be Cool

Forty-eight percent of teens selected those who were kind, caring, courageous, or display other desirable personality traits, or were people whom they would like to emulate. Only a small percentage chose celebrities. Character trumps cool.

Misconception 3: Teens Don’t Care What You Think

Teenagers were also likely to choose as role models people who would help them achieve. The person who  “helps me be a better person,” or is “most interested in my future” is very likely to capture a young person’s attention.

Misconception 4: Teens Don’t Want to Talk to You

Not surprisingly, vast majority of the role models named were people in some relationship with the teens themselves. Family members, coaches, teachers, and pastors were high on the list. Teens look up to the people who have established some intimacy with them. To influence a teenager, start talking to him or her.

As a teenager, whom did (or do) you most respect? Why?

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.