When I started going to church at age 16, church was practically a foreign landscape to me. Having been raised by non-Christian, non-churchgoing parents, I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was terrified of somehow embarrassing myself in that “Christian judgment zone.”
Everything was new and scary and seemed so normal and easy to everyone else. No one knew what to do with me, and I had no idea what struggles would be in store. I was worried about how the people in church would react to me being there. I was worried about how some of my beliefs would be challenged. I was worried I would just get lost in the liturgy (though I never even knew that word at the time!).
Once I started going, I had to worry about how to balance honoring God and honoring my non-Christian parents. It would start with quick comments before I left for church on Sunday: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” was one of their favorites. Soon it made me worry: if they were nervous about me drinking the Kool-Aid, how were they going to react when I told them I wanted to take a swim in it?
With prayer and the support of friends and the church, I changed my religion, and when I first heard the Gospel, everything changed for me. Still, it wasn’t easy, and some days it’s still hard, and I know God had to work hard to untrain the fear of church that had been instilled in me.
Today, I thank God for the people He placed in my life during this transition. Here are a few of the things that helped me feel supported.
Recommend learning materials
I cannot emphasize how Bible-illiterate I was. I had remembered a few of the Bible stories from going to friends’ Vacation Bible Schools, but I could not tell you where in the Bible they sat. I didn’t know where to start, and I didn’t really know Old Testament from New Testament or even what the Gospels were.
One of the ways I was supported by friends and my youth leader was through recommendations. Some of my friends sent me Christian music playlists that helped me to better comprehend a few passages in Scripture. Others sent Bible verses my way. My youth leader lent me devotionals and books. All of those greatly helped.
The internet is another great resource, but it can also lead you astray. I remember finding it difficult to know if what I was reading on the web was truly biblical. After all, these resources had Bible verses to back them up.
When learning how to discern for myself what Scripture says, the resources, music, and verses that were given to me were an immense help. Sending them a verse you like and explaining why you like it seems so simple, but it goes a long way.
Pray with them
I will never forget the first time my friend Sarah and I sat down and prayed. Our tears were just falling onto each other’s arms as she prayed for me. It helped to have someone else do the praying when I felt like it was too much or when I didn’t have the words. It was a powerful moment.
While you might not have as close of a connection as my friend Sarah did with me, praying with youth is impactful. Asking if there is anything you can pray for them about is helpful, but simply asking if you can pray with them can feel like much-needed support. It provides an opportunity for them to lay their burdens down while also teaching them how to pray.
Include them beyond church events
This may seem like the most obvious suggestion, but it goes beyond inviting them to church events. Of course, it’s important to mention that you should directly invite them to church activities. (When you do, make sure to offer transportation.)
Inviting youth to coffee or to attend another community event shows them they are wanted outside of the church. Before I belonged to a church, when I got invited to church events I was skeptical, thinking they only wanted to boost attendance numbers. I remember feeling a bit used and hurt when there was no follow-up invitation for outside-of-church events from my friends.
By inviting them to connect outside of church events, it also allows for more intimate discipleship opportunities. My home church’s youth group was a bit of an anomaly when I attended. About half of our youth’s parents were not church members and did not attend any type of church or religious activity. But we had a great youth leader, and while I felt uncomfortable, I never felt alone. Connecting these youth into learning about Jesus in a community is essential to growing their faith.
Check out Christina Hergenrader's latest book, Shine, a book written to support teenage girls.