David Kinnaman wrote, “We are at a critical point in the life of the North American church; the Christian community must rethink our efforts to make disciples. Many of the assumptions on which we have built our work with young people are rooted in modern, mechanistic, and mass production paradigms. Some (though not all) ministries have taken cues from the assembly line, doing everything possible to streamline the manufacture of shiny new Jesus-followers, fresh from the factory floor. But disciples cannot be mass-produced. Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time.” 1
I have seen and heard this story time and again. A family involved, active, even passionate about Christ and their faith have children who grow up in their church, commit their lives to Christ, then end up walking away from their faith. Many deny this is happening, but one look at the statistics reveals it is a significant trend and and shows no sign of slowing.
Reasons for this trend will vary, but most researchers agree it is a disconnect that twenty-somethings experience from their church. In 2011, the Barna Group asked a question from a sample of American’s, some as old as their 90’s, when they experience a change in their faith. Most said it was while they were in their 20’s, and 71% responded their faith changed before the age of 30. In term’s of decades, the most active in the church are the 12 to 18 year olds. It may come as a surprise to you that the least active in church are the twenty-somethings. The young adults in today’s world love technology and know how to use it. They are active on Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006), Pinterest (2010), none of which existed ten years ago. Problem is they are not very truth savvy.
Everyone can agree the core problem is a faith issue. If young adults are raised up in such a way that the information rich, anti-God, secular world does not overwhelm them, then the Missing In Action, (MIA) twenty-somethings would not be an issue. It should come as no surprise that most young adults will consult the Internet rather than their own pastor on issues concerning religion. I think it would benefit most churches to have web sites they could recommend to their youth and young adults. Even more than recommend, but handouts to teens and twenty-somethings. Web sites that are inline with their particular beliefs and practices. Then the next time they have a question about their faith and a pastor or elder are not readily available, they can do what comes naturally and consult the Internet. Something they will likely do anyway.
Those that influence the twenty-somethings have changed greatly compared to the Boomer or Elder generations. An older generation who reference their own ‘hero’s of the faith’ may only receive blank stares or bored looks at the mention of Franklin Graham, James Dobson, or Rick Warren, all of whom scored less than 15% on favorable views with 18-27 year olds. Only Billy Graham, out of a list of movers and shakers in the faith, weighed in just over 25% of favorable views. On the flip side, Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Faith Hill, and Bill Clinton all scored in the 60% to over 90% favorable views with the twenty-somethings. Keep in mind this is poll data from people who consider themselves Christian. Does this concern you? It should.
Author Malcolm Gladwell spotted a trend with the current generation that is revealing. He said, “I feel that people are experience-rich and theory-poor. That is to say, most people have lots and lots and lots of experiences but don’t have the time to try to make sense of them.” 2 In his own words, Gladwell writes books to challenge beliefs, and though I have not read any of his books, his observation applies to this discussion. People make time for things that are important to them. We prioritize every day, often without giving it a second thought. Do you brush your teeth before you are dressed? Do you check your e-mail, Facebook page, or text messages before you have your coffee? Do you work out in the morning or in the evening? Many that don’t find answers to questions of faith may just put them on the back burner. After a time, often without realizing it, they have had so many unanswered questions placed on the back burner that their faith has moved as well.
In 2002, the Pew Research Center found that the percent of American’s who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religious group had doubled from 7% to 14% in just a few short years. Gallup began a daily poll in 2008 interviewing a thousand people a day. What they found was that in 2008 the percent of Nones, or those unaffiliated with any religion, was at 14.6%. In 2012, it had risen to 17.8%. 3
In his book You Lost Me, Kinnaman identify’s six broad reasons twenty somethings drop out of church. 1. The church is over protective and a creativity killer. 2. The church is shallow and boring. 3. The church is anti-science, science is seemingly incompatible with the Christian faith, 4. The church is repressive especially when it comes to sexual attitudes. 5. The church is exclusive and intolerant. 6. The church is doubtless. Twenty somethings feel they can’t express doubt without a critical response from the church leaders. These are the perceptions of twenty somethings, not necessarily fact. Nevertheless the church should look at these and at least try to understand why young adults are feel the way they do and look at what can be done to adjust (the church) or educate (the twenty somethings).
Many who walk away from their faith do so because they feel they can’t reconcile the scientific evidence they encounter in college. Certainly secular scientists or professors laugh at the faith some students express. Many of their lectures revolve around belittling, undermining, or attacking the Christian faith, and if our young adults are not prepared for this, serious or even permanent damage can be done to a student’s faith. Christians should never be fearful of science or philosophy. Francis Bacon said, “A little philosophy inclines man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy brings men’s minds about to religion.” Christians should engage science and investigate the claims without fear. Too many Christians reject elements of science because it does not fit their world view. In my opinion, they are throwing the baby out with the bath water. Atheists are guilty of the same, disregarding the Bible as fairy tales or fables, unwilling to even consider the truth of Scripture because of their world view.
Sooner or later you will encounter someone who says or asks:
Evolution is a fact and disproves the Bible.
I was abused as a child by church leaders. How could God allow that?
The Bible is full of errors so why trust it?
How do you know God exists?
I have been a good person. Why would God send me to Hell?
Why would God allow children to suffer and die?
Having explored these kinds of questions with youth leaders or pastors can only add to the required armor young adults will need in college, or in the secular work place. It is better to explore a question and settle it, than to settle a question without exploring it. Francis Collins, who is the director of the Human Genome Research Institute wrote, “God is the greatest scientist. Surely he is not threatened by our efforts to understand the natural world. Surely he does not expect us to disbelieve the facts that science is gathering about the wonderful beauty and order around us.” 4
1. Kinnaman, David. You Lost Me – Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011. Print.
2. Reesman, Bryan. “To Agree or Not to Agree.” The Costco Connection Oct. 2013: 26-28. Print.
3. Newport, Frank. “Event Transcript: Religion Trends in the U.S.” PewForum. Pew Research Center. 8/19/2013. Web. 10/10/2013.
4. Falk, Darrel. Coming to Peace with Science. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004. Print.