How to Deal with Apathetic Students

January 3, 2013 — 8 Comments

Is it just me or are more and more students who are coming into church, or even those who has been at church all their lives, are becoming more and more apathetic towards church? Apathetic meaning: indifferent, uninterested, unconcerned, and bored. When I am walking around meeting students on the weekend services it has been amazing me on how many students literally don’t care about being there and participating in services. They just don’t care; they are forced to be there.  Although some students are the ones to go through a rebellious stage, others appear to be getting showing apathy and boredom. Psychoanalyst Peter Blos writes that both of these are signs of the same struggle: “giving up childhood in emerging in the young adult identity”. That this apathy is just the morning of the simplicity of child-hood is gone and it looking at the transition into young adult-hood without a real plan, and this is the reaction we are getting.

When we look at this issue through this lens, we realize that warmth, patience and humor can go a long way towards helping a teenager emerge from apathy towards the church. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind when dealing with students who are apathetic in your ministry:

Be patient. Don’t try to hurry it along. Prodding and urging almost always creates additional resistance. Patiently getting along with an apathetic student produces more results than confrontation. This is resistance is necessary for the student as they are processing their transition and this should be met with tolerant, patient adults. Attempt to force change in a student will result in more apathy. We simply need to be patient with them and love on them when they enter the room and let them know you are there for them.

Accept it. This doesn’t mean you give up on them. Looking at it as a transitional stage to adulthood, this stage is necessary for it to move on past apathy. We as their pastors, need to understand that this is something that they need to go through as they are wrestling with life, school, home, and God circumstances going on simultaneously in their lives.

Continue as planned. Continue to do services as planned, greet students as you always have, play the games you always have every service. If this is something they need to go through, there is no need to cater and to try to force something that is not going to happen. An apathetic student might withhold themselves from such activities, but will always observe them and from time to time want to engage in them. Don’t comment on them doing so, just accept it graciously. A fun filled environment will help an apathetic student with this transitional stage than an over bearing, forced atmosphere.

Be okay with rejection. It’s okay. Most of the time it will pass. A pastor’s love MUST survive adolescent rejection because usually it ends up in appreciation and gratitude on behalf of the student.

Know that God is working. Be optimistic that God is working in their lives and that if we as their pastors are there for them, loving them, including them, inviting them, going on with our services and fun and games and continue to preach Jesus, more times than not they will come around and be closer to God and thankful that you kept up with them in the group.

We need to keep love and humor alive in the face of apathy and the stirrings of interest in God and the motivation to know Him more will begin to grow.

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8 responses to How to Deal with Apathetic Students

  1. 

    Justin, thanks for the reminders. I agree that too often we are quick to change our programs in order to “fight” apathy from our students. One thing I have found in having one on one conversations with students who have tended to be apathetic is they all haven’t found a reason for their faith. Going along with their transition into adulthood they haven’t really found the necessity of faith. They know that scripture is “good advice” but haven’t adopted it as life giving. They know their gut tells them that there is a creator, but haven’t tangibly found a way to take hold of Him. The result is this apathy because of their unknowing or doubt. This is really a transition in the way they think from concrete to abstract. Physiologically it isn’t easy for some youth to process the “grey” areas in faith or life, hence more apathy.
    We have done well to approach their curiosity head on and not veer from their doubts. We have found that their doubt can either produce apathy or a hunger for truth. It all depended on the way we approached it. Ever so often we do a series that applies what we have been teaching directly into the world they are growing up in. For instance, we are about to do a series called The “real” modern family. Which will cover topics that the world has done a good job of masking as harmless. They are all wondering it, but as a church we have avoided them for some reason. Christ himself met people in their own doubts and spoke to them in examples that they dealt with day to day, why shouldn’t we do the same?
    Thanks for your heart and ministry.

  2. 

    Enlightening!!! So that’s what I’ve been experiencing for the last 2 years! I’ll admit, it’s been extremely frustrating & at times wondered “God, are you sure youth ministry is my calling”? I’ve taken it very personal. So many times they’ve walked in to Sunday & Wednesday serves like their best dog died or like they’ve been sucking on pickles. I’m happy to know that I’m not the only YP who has noticed or experienced it.

  3. 

    Justin
    I had a great question that was sparked by my wonderful wife ” if its just a stage why does it last for years”? of which I agree.

    • 

      That is such a good question! Man I wish I knew! I think sometimes they dont ever leave that “phase”. But tI think that is up to the Lord. And us being patient. I just recently had a former student, whom I have not heard from in 4 years, who was in this stage, and I thought he was gone. I just got a random Facebook message from him saying, “thank you for always pushing me, texting when I never texted back, and for the random facebook messages” and now he is plugged into a local church and serving. It’s crazy. Only God. We won’t know when or if even.

      • 

        Sorry couldn’t help not commenting again. My heart has been so heavy on this. I have sometimes fought the urge to not be indifferent to apathetic students. But another way of saying what you said, we forget that God is the gardener and we are simply the field hands. No program, event, or talk will force any fruit to bare, but the prodding of God brings us all to our knees. Praise God for his love for your former student and those that we all have to lean on God a little more to love.

      • 

        Well said. I think it’s funny that we have to remind ourselves about how powerful God is and how he can change hearts. It’s something that is a MUST.

      • 

        Chad is so right. He’s not a student, but speaking of God’s timing. After about 15 yrs of praying god my stepdad who was completely against Christianity. He recengly stsrted reading the bible, asking me to text him verses & told my mom “maybe this Jesus stuff is real”!
        I ask you join with me in praying for my step dads salvation. His name is Clyde!

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