DULUTH — Southern Baptists have long given priority to youth ministry in local churches. After all, the youth are our future, right?
If that’s true, the future is troubling.
“We are on the front lines of the emerging post-Christian America,” said Doug Couch, a Georgia Baptist Mission Board state missionary and student ministries specialist. “Our young people reflect where we are headed.”
What Couch and scores of Georgia Baptist youth ministers see in today’s youth is heartbreaking and opportunistic. Narcissism and materialism have encroached upon the “innocence of youth,” creating a generation bent on entitlement. Parents try to give their kids everything without their teenagers struggling or making a sacrifice.
Teens are lonely because their parents are often absent, typically working hard to give them stuff instead of time. Raising a child may take a village, but in metro Atlanta for instance, that village usually parks on I-285 during the morning and afternoon commutes, Couch said. So the village isn’t home.
Georgia youth and collegiate pastors report a growing awareness of dysfunctional families. For instance, they are often seeing teenagers who have become the de facto parent for younger brothers and sisters while their mom’s boyfriends run in and out of their lives.
Social media amplifies bullying, a cruelty that leads some teens to attempt suicide often at school. Suicide is the number two killer of young people.
“Kids thinking about suicide is an epidemic,” Couch said.
Social media has also made pornography immediately accessible to youth. On the same mobile device where they read their Bible, they can view porn.
“Pornography is the crack cocaine of human sexuality,” Couch said. “It changes the brain and how it deals with sexuality. It perverts.”
Meanwhile, the old demons are still present. Teens have easier access to drugs, which seem to saturate every corner of the state. With too much free time on their hands and the lack of parental supervision, accessing drugs is not difficult.
While the youth culture may appear bleak on many fronts, Couch notes that the state has many quality kids.
“There are lots of outstanding and credible teenagers out there,” Couch said. “But they get overshadowed.”
Finding opportunity in turmoil
The pain many Georgia youth feel creates a vacuum often filled with vices. Couch believes those youth are desperately and spiritually hungry, which creates one of the state’s best evangelism opportunities in decades.
“Young people today are more reachable than ever because there’s such a spiritual and moral compass void,” Couch said. “We’re gathering firewood for a great revival. We are ripe for a spiritual revival to sweep this country.”
A product of the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Couch is anxious after 31 years with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board (formerly the Georgia Baptist Convention) to see that revival start. Through ministries underwritten with Cooperative Program dollars, his team serves more than 780 churches annually through special events such as Southeastern Conclave, SuperWow, Merge, Impact, OneDay, and Move.
Couch desires to serve each of Georgia Baptists’ more than 3,000 congregations with a statewide network of youth ministry coaches. His goal is to have a youth ministry network coach within close proximity to each Georgia Baptist Mission Board church and able to resource their needs.
Eighty percent of Georgia Baptist Mission Board churches have volunteer youth ministers, and a lot of them have gray hair, Couch said. Having served rural churches before joining GBC, Couch is quick to encourage those youth leaders.
“Passion is ageless,” Couch said. And his message to long-time volunteer youth ministers is “Don’t give up your voice.”
The Jan. 1, 2016 reinvention of the Georgia Baptist Convention into the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, announced last fall by Executive Director J. Robert White, includes more personnel living throughout the state with some being contract workers. Couch is hopeful that the strategy will strengthen the youth ministry coaching network.
Meanwhile, he challenges local churches to see the mission field before them.“The greatest mission field is in front of our noses – local schools,” Couch said. “They are begging for help. All of our churches need to adopt a school.”