Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Falling Away

I read this article (which everyone and their brother has already blogged on, I'm sure). It's about a recent study by LifeWay Research (affiliated with Billy Graham, I think?) that shows that people in their 20s are turning away from the church. Well, yes. Yes, they are. My husband and I have this argument every now and then--because most of his friends are church-going Christians, he thinks that Christianity is actually on the rise amongst our peer group. That's like saying that, because most of our friends our age are married, people in general are marrying younger. It feels true, but it just isn't. Whenever I reply that the statistics are definitely on my side, he disputes the sampling. Admittedly, 1,023 is not a large group, but big enough, I think, to see some trends.

As I said, a lot of people have blogged about this study and how distressing it is that kids these days don't go to church of their own accord. I agree--this is *seriously* distressing. Why are young people feeling so disconnected from the church? Allow me to include my favorite quotation from the whole article: "'Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There's no life transformation taking place,' [Ed] Stetzer [of LifeWay Research] says. 'People are looking for a faith that can change them and to be a part of changing the world.'" I worry that youth pastors are too afraid of turning kids off to really challenge them about their lives. I feel that way, certainly, when the teen girls come to me all giggly and excited because they've just gotten the official "dating" signifier with the crush du jour. I don't want to snub them--I remember being their age and feeling that way--but what do I say? "Congratulations--but make sure he behaves like a gentleman," I tell them. I do my best, and I'm sure youth ministers all over the country are stuck with the same quandaries. How do you challenge the kids to examine their lives through the lens of the Bible, without scolding too harshly and driving them off?

That, however, was not the part of the survey that I found the most distressing. That honor goes to the following sentence: "Dropouts were more than twice as likely than those who continued attending church to describe church members as judgmental (51% for dropouts, 24% for those who stayed), hypocritical (44% vs. 20%) or insincere (41% vs. 19%)."

What's wrong with this picture? Well, it should be no surprise that roughly half of the church drop-outs feel that people at church are judgmental, hypocritical, or insincere. The part that blew my mind is that 19-25% of those who *stayed* at church felt the same way! That's roughly one out of every five twenty-something-year olds. As they say about the made-up stat that one in every five people is insane, "examine four friends. If they're all normal and happy, then it must be you." What I want to know is, why are these people staying? WHY? Would you spend every Sunday morning (and evening, and Wednesday evening as well, if you're Church of Christ) with people you thought were faking it? I'm sure each church has its handful of judgmental hypocrites, but are there enough to color one's perception of the whole group? Fascinating...

As to what we can do, I don't know that youth groups are really the answer. Konni told me that most people who are going to devote their lives to living as Christians have made a pretty solid decision on that by age 10 (Konni, do you have a source for that one?). So, again, what I've been saying about the Sunday school thing. Early intervention--by the time they are teens, it's probably too late.

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