“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” – C.S. Lewis
About 4 years ago, I had an interesting conversation with a pastor. I had just heard that my daughter’s friend had left the faith at the age of 19. His reason was tragically simple. He was a brilliant young man and attended an Ivy League college with an interest in pursuing a medical career. He had grown up in both a church and school which pushed only a literal Young Earth interpretation of Genesis. He had been taught that scientists covered up the evidence of a young earth. He was also indoctrinated into the supposed evidence of such a viewpoint. You know, the Sunday school version of science.
As he pursued his science diligently, he began to see the discrepancies between what he had been taught, including the stuff at Answers in Genesis, and the peer reviewed studies of the greater scientific community. He believed in the evidence of an ancient earth.
Unfortunately, both his school and this church did not allow him to believe that he could be both a Christian and a believer in an Old Earth. So, looking at the evidence, he chose what he saw to be the truth. And left the faith.
When I told him that I, too, believed in an Old Earth and still held to the faith, he told me that it was too late. Too many people had told him he could only believe one way or the other.
I then went to the church ( I was still a member there at the time) and asked the man in charge of teaching the “Young Earth" curriculum if he would consider teaching that people can believe in an Old Earth and be Christians in order to give our kids a fallback position. He said he would NEVER allow such a thing.
I then called one of the pastors who said, and I quote, “My research has shown that this is not the reason why kids leave the church.” I asked him to share his research. He declined. I believe that “My research” is one of those “kiss off” statements which means “get lost.” I think it also means that he googled a couple of articles from AIG and thus concluded his “research.”
The answer of both of these men conveyed an attitude of “I don’t care if anyone leaves the faith over this. My theology of secondary issues trumps losing kids.” My question is this, “Where is the devotion to our primary directive?” I wonder if the church should adopt a line from the Hippocratic Oath. "First, do no harm."
However, there is some “real” research that is getting to the bottom of things.
The president of the Barna Group, David Kinnaman, has just released a new book titled, You Lost Me: Why Young People Are leaving the Church and Rethinking Church. Here is a link to the description at Amazon.
Here is part of the product description from Amazon.
“Close to 60 percent of young people who went to church as teens drop out after high school. Now the bestselling author of unChristian trains his researcher's eye on these young believers. Where Kinnaman's first book unChristian showed the world what outsiders aged 16-29 think of Christianity, You Lost Me shows why younger Christians aged 16-29 are leaving the church and rethinking their faith.”
This study looked at kids who were committed church attendees during their teen years and then dropped out, beginning at age 15. But here is the most worrisome staistic. Three (3) out of every five (5) young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time after age 15.
Here is how one Amazon reviewer at the same link, David Gruesel, who gave the book 5 stars, analyzed the book.
“If you were intrigued with the premise of "unchristian," a candid discussion of how the evangelical church in North America has failed to reach the younger generation of unchurched adults, you will likely find "You Lost Me" to be equally useful. If, on the other hand, you are defensive and thin-skinned about your approach to evangelism, outreach, and church growth, you will likely find this book as offensive as you found "unchristian."
Both volumes speak frankly–often using the very words of these unreached young adults–about how the church (broadly understood) has not addressed either their beliefs or their doubts. The current work, "You Lost Me," is more focused on young adults who USED to be in a church environment and no longer are. In some respects, it is even a more heartbreaking story because these are people that the church in some sense had, and now no longer has.”
Over at the Barna Group website, here, there is an excellent synopsis of the study titled “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave the Church.” Here are some highlights.
1. Churches seem overprotective.
Here is the bottom line. The world is now interconnected. Five years ago, I would never have considered writing a blog. Ten years ago, I was just discovering the marvel of Google. Our children are growing up in a world in which various world-views and philosophical ideas are easily explored. It is not unusual for a teen to be communicating with a Hindu teen in India.
My son played video games with friends from across the globe. I didn’t realize this until, one day, I walked into our game room and heard him joking with a guy who had an English accent. My son was playing a video game over the Internet with a boy in London!
Children can easily see videos from around the world of devastation from poverty, wars and weather. They also see that some of these needs are being met by groups that have nothing to do with the Christian faith.
Here are some of the concerns expressed in this category:
- Christians demonize everything outside of the church (25%)
- The church ignores the problems of the real world. (22%)
- My church is too concerned that video games, movies and music are harmful. (18%)
2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
This one is disconcerting. It appears that God may not be making an appearance in some churches.
- Church is boring (31%)
- Faith is not relevant to my career or interests (24%)
- The Bible is not taught clearly or often enough (23%)
- God is missing from my experience of church (20%)
3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
I have been around far too many Christians who claim that scientists are deceitful, guilty of hiding evidence that the earth is young, and, in general, despise God and Christianity, etc. The problem is that my husband was one of these so-called scientists in his younger days.Yet he loved God and followed Christ but believed that science is one way that God reveals His complexity and beauty to the world. I have had people on this blog comment that my experience with such Christians was unusual and that most Christians are not like this. Well, it seems that my experiences may not have been unusual.
- Christianity is anti-science (25%)
- Churches are out of step with the scientific world that we live in. (29%)
- Some are turned off by the creation -versus-evolution debate. (23%)
- Christians are too confident that they know all the answers. (35%)
Most importantly, in this subset of those young people, who describe themselves as science-minded, we discover that they are struggling to find ways to stay faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
(Take that, Mr. Pastor, whose research didn’t show such things.)
4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
We live in a culture that emphasizes sexuality and offers easy access to pornography. These young people struggle with how to live up to the church’s expectation of chastity and sexual purity in a culture that is delaying marriage into the late 20s.
(I have one thought. Could the divorce rate amongst Christians (higher even than atheist marriages as we have discussed before) cause young people to fear marriage?-but, I digress).
Statistics indicate that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers even though they are more conservative in their attitudes to sexuality.
17% say that they have made mistakes and feel judged by the church.
5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Today’s culture prizes open-mindedness and tolerance. Young people today have friendships that span a wide array of racial, ethnicity, sexuality, and religious diversity. They strive to find common ground with their peers. Gone are the days when all white, upper-class people attended the local Episcopal church and the Russian immigrants (my dad’s experience) lived in the same section of town. The observations of our young people about how our churches are dealing with differences is troubling.
- Churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths. (29%)
- They feel forced to choose between their faith and their friends. (29%)
- Church is like a country club, only for insiders. (22%)
6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
TWW has seen this in action. There are some who have emailed us asking us to get rid of those who are questioning the faith. We have seen occasional bouts of rudeness and arrogance directed towards those who express doubt.
It seems out young people have picked up on this. Apparently they do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense to them.
- I am not able to ask my most pressing life’s questions in church. (36%)
- I have significant doubts about my faith. (23%)
- Faith does not help me with depression or other emotional problems. (18%)
What is even more disconcerting, according to Kinnaman, is that some leaders ignore the concerns of this age group because they feel this disconnect will end when they get married and have kids. However, there is a dramatic shift occurring in our culture and this assumption is increasingly being called into question.
Interestingly, Kinnaman points out that far too many churches adhere to a top down, hierarchal approach to all ministries. He posits that we need to cultivate a a team of believers that span the generations. In other words, these young people need to be involved on teams with adults, allowing them to have ownership in the life of the church.
Yet, as this writer sees the faith, the current church trends seem to be locked into promoting an authority based patriarchy which marginalizes “important” decisions in the church to well-connected men who exist to support the agenda of an increasingly isolated, authoritative and anointed leadership. My guess is that this sort of solution will not gain traction in certain circles. I am sure that their "research" will show something different.
Finally, there used to be a show emceed by Art Linkletter called Kids Say the Darndest Things. The kids would say amusing things about their perceptions of life. Well, the Barna Group just pulled an Art Linkletter on the church. Unfortunately, the news from our kids is not amusing. Is the church listening?
I have provided a very funny video from Art Linkletter’s show. For those of you who are interested, around minute 4, the children start talking about Adam and Eve. I had me a good laugh. Hope you do as well.