In third grade, I was . . . a distraction.
My memory is fuzzy (I was easily distracted as well), but I remember hearing words like “very talkative” and “enthusiastic” from my kind, politically correct teachers. This all led up to the day I was told that, instead of learning multiplication with the other students, I would be going to visit Mr. Johnson.
The sum of my memories of third grade are: dressing up as reindeer for Christmas, checking out a book on volcanoes from the library every week for 29 straight weeks, and my lessons with Mr. Johnson. That’s it. He made math and reading fascinating to an easily distracted third grader, because he did one thing: He let me ask questions.
A lot of questions.
“Why would someone write a book where the dog dies?”
“What happens when you subtract more numbers than you have?”
“Can you have negative apples?”
“If I worked at the dictionary company, could I change how words are spelled?”
“Why do I need to know how to multiply?”
He also asked me tough questions. He asked me to explain how long division worked. We talked about why words were pronounced the way they were. It was the most challenging hour of my day and one of the few things I still remember from that year.
As kids grow up, many are leaving the church, and many people say it’s because their questions aren’t being answered. The statistics are there, too. According to Barna Group’s research on “Generation Z,” the generation of people who are in their teenage years right now, many of them have unanswered questions.
That’s 1 out of 4 teens that already go to church. It’s a big enough problem that it’s attracting a lot of attention in churches. A quick search will lead you to articles like “Top 10 reasons our kids leave church,” and “The Youth Exodus Problem: Christian youth in America are leaving the church.” Hundreds of writers, with varying degrees of panic, encourage churches to answer the big questions, give kids the tools they need, and just give them a reason to believe.
So what’s the solution? Almost all these articles agree: Answer their questions. That’s tempting, because honestly, tough questions are frightening. I’d love to just talk through all the typical questions and answers when my son turns ten, and give him everything I think he needs to know, but that study by Barna group also mentions another statistic: “About 1 in 4 churchgoing teens say church is not a safe place to express their doubts.”
About the same number of kids don’t feel like they can even ask their questions in church. I think of my third grade self. I remember Mr. Johnson, who encouraged me to ask new questions, but I can hardly remember one of the classes where I was just told to memorize answers. Could it be that before we answer kids’ questions, we should actually let kids ask them?
Shockingly, that’s what Jesus, the guy who literally had all the answers, usually did. Many of His stories, sayings, and parables started because of a question someone asked. (A great example is “The greatest commandment” in Matthew 22:34-40.) He talked about what people wanted to know rather than just giving them the answers up front.
I can’t answer all the questions your kid is asking. I can’t even answer all the questions my one year old is asking. But there are two things every one of us can say to kids that might just give them the chance to ask the questions that matter most to them.
"It's ok to ask questions."
The good news for all of us is, you usually only ask questions if you care. If a kid doubts or brings up tough problems, it's often a sign that faith is becoming more important to him or her. That’s something to celebrate! And while we may not have all of the answers to their questions, what could happen if we started by affirming kids and teens when they ask questions?
"I have time to listen."
This is one of the most valuable things we can say to kids today. A child’s teachers, small group leaders, and even friends rarely take time to truly listen. So, it's important that you make that time. Even if they don’t take you up on it, knowing that we will make time to listen to them is one of the greatest gifts we can give a kid.
When we let kids ask questions, they’ll remember that we cared about what they thought. It takes courage, patience, and humility, but it also gives them the chance to make their faith their own.
I know it’s not easy, though, and I want you to know that we have time to listen. If you or your kid are struggling with tough questions, we want Eagle Brook to be a place where you can ask them and work to find answers. Whether you're a teenager, adult, or a distracted third-grader, your questions are valuable, because they show that you care. Don't hesitate to find a staff member or volunteer on the weekend, or simply fill out this form and we'll be in touch.
 Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation. Barna Group, 2018.