There is no question that the Church is facing dire circumstances with today’s youth. No matter how one looks at it, it is estimated that between 59% (Barna Group, 2013) and 70% (Stetzer, 2014) of young adults leave the faith right out of high school. Whether they come back to the Church is irrelevant to the fact that we tend to lose these precious individuals during one of the most pivotal moments in their lives. Psychosocial development as outlined by Erik Erikson defines the crisis of individuals between the ages of 12 and 18 years as identity vs. role confusion (McLeod, 2008). During this stage of development, McLeod (2008) observes of adolescents, “They explore possibilities and begin to form their own identity based upon the outcome of their explorations. Failure to establish a sense of identity within society (‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up’) can lead to role confusion.” Obviously, something is not clicking in the Church which is translating into a youth whose Christian role becomes confused between the ages of 18 and 19. This youth, in turn, cannot resist the lure of the big words and temptations perpetuated by the evangelical atheist crowd.
Now, bringing up the issue of atheism might cause a Christian to blame the outside world for such a sad state of affairs; however, we should look inward and discover how we are failing our future. Many books, articles, and blog posts have been written on this very subject and offer some insight into the problem. Hallowell (2013) has written one such article, 5 Possible Reasons Young Americans Are Leaving Church and Christianity Behind, which explores research completed by Focus on the Family and the Barna Group on why young Christians leave the faith. Much of the research is comprised of interviews of former believers in which they reported why they left. While I do not question the methods or results of the researchers, I do call into question the actual reasons identified be these people to cause them to forsake God. Looking at some of the reasons (Politics at the Pulpit, Isolationism, and Openness), a glaring issue presents itself: the answers given by these youth are trite, cliché, and they reek of propaganda. Is this really why young Christians abandon their relationship with God to follow carnal endeavors? I certainly hope these individuals are not as ignorant as their supposed reasons make them appear to be.
I think the problem with these types of studies is that they are influenced by the misinformation effect, or the effect of when our memories become inaccurate due to information gathered after the fact. These “ex-Christians” answered the surveys and interview questions based on what they have learned of the atheist and agnostic doctrine after they left. These studies are dangerous because, while sincere, they can cause Christians to compromise their values to appease the youth to keep them from dwindling the congregational numbers.
I believe a much better exploration into the problem is written by Housman (2013) who notes that it is our inability to prepare the teenager or answer the tough questions which lead people astray. The Barna Group (2011) echoes the same sentiment in terms of lack of preparation. The truth of the matter really is that we are not preparing our young Christians to be able to face the world once the apron strings are cut.
Youth groups are wonderful places for teenagers to hang out, stay out of the world, and connect with like-minded individuals; but, the majority of youth groups and parents of teenagers simply do not prepare Christians for the journey ahead. Instead they form individuals who, as Ephesians 4:4 notes, are “Tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.”
Preparation comes in two forms: having an accurate knowledge of God and having a living, breathing relationship with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We will inquire of these two methods by examining current issues and discuss the changes which need to be made to rectify them. Unlike countless books written on the very subject, I am not going to be looking at how we can modernize the Church to make ourselves more attractive to the Millennials, I am going to dismantle a problem that has plagued Christianity since its founding: a zeal for the Law.
The Barna Group. (2013). 5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church. Retrieved from https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/635-5-reasons-millennials-stay-connected-to-church#.VKIA3l4AKB.
The Barna Group. (2011). Five Myths About Young Adult Church Dropouts. Retrieved from https://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/534-five-myths-about-young-adult-church-dropouts.
Hallowell, B. (2013). 5 possible reasons young Americans are leaving Church and Christianity behind. The Blaze. Retrieved from http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/10/30/5-possible-reasons-young-americans-are-leaving-church-and-christianity-behind/.
Housman, B. (2013). Why are teens leaving the Faith? Lifeway. Retrieved from http://www.lifeway.com/Article/ministry-family-Why-are-Teens-Leaving-the-Faith.
McLeod, S. (2008). Erik Erikson. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html.
Stetzer, E. (2014). Dropouts and disciples: How many students are really leaving the church? Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html?paging=off.
To be continued in Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen!