Bring Back the Young People

young woman holding a bag and looking back over her shoulder
Photo by Raychan on Unsplash

J. Warner Wallace has a huge compilation of research related to why young people are leaving the church. He lists a bunch of books/surveys, then summarizes what those found.

Here I’ve pulled a few clues that seem most helpful for parents. If you go to the link and search within for the bits I have in quotes here, you’ll land directly on those spots. Read more there if you have time.

“Primarily because of intellectual doubt and skepticism”—That’s why some teens leave the church/their faith. Of course, this is why Wallace does what he does: providing hard evidence for Christianity. And he’s the perfect guy to do it: a cold-case homicide cop (and therefore, an evidence expert), former atheist.

“All faiths teach equally valid truths”—More than half of teens in some surveys believe that. That’s partly because we don’t teach kids the basic and irreconcilable differences between the world religions. Many Christian adults don’t know either. So when even Christian writers drift from God’s Word to promote the false religions, readers are naïve and swallow teachings they shouldn’t. (Ex: Popular Richard Rohr falsely says that Jesus taught karma. Rohr also openly recommends mantra meditation with the Hindu “om.”)

Just be good people. The idea is that you don’t really need the Bible/Christianity. See what’s under “moralistic therapeutic deism” at its first mention in the piece. That’s a big term, but it just means your religion amounts to being good and calling on a distant God only when there’s a crisis. (Here’s a good article on that entire subject.) Then where moralistic therapeutic deism is mentioned in the next paragraph in the survey, it also says that maybe teens aren’t clear about (solid in) their faith, “because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation.” Ouch! But this is what I’ve been saying for a very long time. We talk about being good and doing service projects. But we don’t talk about living out the hard stuff, what to say to our unbelieving friends, why Buddhism won’t cut it, why God’s ways work no matter how things appear…

“Students who stayed in church through college said that the first thing they do when they have doubts or questions was to talk to their parents and then read their Bibles.”—So obviously these parents create an atmosphere where it’s safe for their kids to admit problems; AND it seems obvious that they typically turn to the Bible to see what God says. So kids of such families have a foundation that remains more solid when they start getting away from home.

“Sharing their faith with unbelievers”—That was one item about parents in a list near the very end of the piece. One survey had “found that parents who had successfully passed on their faith to their children” (that is, the kids didn’t ditch their faith in college) were parents who tended to shared their faith with unbelievers. So the parents’ faith is an open part of their real lives. It’s talked about, and the kids see that.

“Churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions”—Young people felt that way, according to #3 in the list beneath the survey titled “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.” In my experience, we sometimes apply the Scripture to silly situations, like applying “in your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) to a situation like getting cut off on the highway rather than in terms of big difficulties more related to Joseph’s potential anger at his brothers or Jesus’ anger in the temple. If we really dug into the Bible and studied how the Bible heroes handled big trouble (as well as studying some of the guys who behaved stupidly!), we’d be armed with real power.

For ideas on getting kids deeper into the Bible and living out what those heroes show us, check out this post on Ezekiel and this one on King Josiah.

And here’s a bit more on this “leaving the church” subject.

You might want to steer your church leaders to this information.


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