I was having a discussion with my friends recently about social inclusion. I have to admit that my feelings are strong on this. I see it happening all the time and believers are turning a blind eye to the effects of social exclusion on teens within the church. Kids with excellent Christian upbringing with bible memorization and Awana attendance awards are turning away from the Lord and the church all the time. We can not ignore how important fellowship is in a Christian teenager’s life who crave social acceptance especially in light of the kind of bullying that is happening in the schools!
When there are teens, there are bonds made through sports, games, activities and just hanging out. For the most part the bonds aren’t really made in Sunday School class, it is in those extra social activities. Kids become a group and develop friendships and appreciation for one another’s company through those activities. They encourage one another and give each other advice on girls/guys. They become accountable to one another and a good friend will tell another friend if they are being mean or careless or if they are doing something they shouldn’t (at least in my experiences in the church groups).
There is almost always that one kid who is socially awkward and can make conversations uncomfortable at times in the things they say or in their behaviour or their responses. They aren’t always good at witty come-backs or kidding around and sometimes they just tell bad jokes. Sometimes there are those kids who are into things that others would consider strange rather than athletics and rap music.
What happens to those kids?
Too many times, those kids end up fading into the woodwork and no one talks about them until they are posting pictures of drinking binges at parties and using foul language on FB and have been missing from church for a very long time.
So how did they get from faithfully attending a bible believing church with such great kids around them to becoming bitter with the church?
There are other reasons for teens turning away but one very real reason is some of these teens aren’t being accepted by that group of great kids. They get systematically separated from the group and when they are excluded from those activities, they start feeling like they don’t belong. It is hurtful when they see the posts on FB of all their friends having good times that they weren’t a part of or when they inevitably hear about it from other friends or when the inside jokes circulate and they are the only one who doesn’t seem to get it. Or when the kids are talking about the good times with this or that or when other kids know things about one another like favourite music, candy or sports and they are in the dark. The constant lack of connection through exclusion draws a very hurtful wedge between the awkward teen and what could potentially be an incredible lifeline for them – Good Christian Friends!
So who can they turn to if they can’t belong to a great group of Christian teens? There are groups of kids who will accept them. It’s the kids down the street who play Dungeons and Dragons in their basements, who have bad habits and who don’t love God.
On the flip side, when kids are accepted despite their eccentricities, they have continued positive influences on their lives. It is easier to resist the bad influences when they have a solid group of friends and activities with them as an alternative. They can make good choices when they know that there are friends that have their back, that will give them a pep talk and a word of encouragement. They can be challenged to use their eccentricities for the Lord and really grow.