Data Isn't Dumb

Jesse Oakes | Dec 19, 2013

Photo by david.

Have you ever read a report of statistics about teenagers and wondered, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Sometimes we feel that way, too.

For example, every two years the Center for Disease Control releases a report called Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS). It is a comprehensive national survey that measures student exposure to, and participation in, risk behaviors like violence, drug or alcohol use, and sexual activity. The goal is to monitor progress toward achieving national health objectives, assess trends in risk behaviors, and evaluate the impact of community programs.

The report gives me hard data about the changing environment that students face during high school. For example, by the time most American teenagers are seniors, nearly half of their classmates have already used marijuana. Four in five have consumed alcohol, and three in five have had sex.

What does our church do with this data?

First, we let it direct our prayers. We pray that students can resist temptation, and become empowered to make healthy choices, even when those choices place them in the minority.

Second, this data directs our communication. It helps us partner with parents by helping families feel informed and valued.

Third, it directs our programming. We make sure students have multiple opportunities to hear truth, process their own experiences, and receive support and encouragement.

Last, it directs our asks. Whether we are looking for volunteers, creating scholarships for camps and mission trips, or simply praying, we can ask for what we know students really need.

This data has changed the way our church family thinks, listens, and lives. Perhaps it’ll be useful to your family, too.

You can access the full YRBS website here: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/index.htm.

Jesse Oakes

Since 2004 Jesse Oakes has served in the High School Ministries of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA. He completed his MDiv with a concentration in Youth, Family, and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2010. He received a BA from UC San Diego in Communication in 2003, and worked in the music industry prior to vocational ministry. Jesse and his wife Megan live in Pasadena.


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