19 May, 2011 The crisis of faith attrition in the young

This past week I drafted a booklet on faith attrition among our young. The week before I was very pleased to complete a first ‘Great Commission Series’, which is intended as a preaching resources for pastors — the outlines and power points being available for download on the ‘mobilising’ page of this website.

Amongst this all I haven’t blogged — so today will include the first part of the above mentioned booklet. The primary audience of this particular one is likely to be more american, and thus statistics are focused there without any attempt to reflect what is happening in other parts of the world — but my own suspicion is that there is not a lot of difference. NZ and Australia would have many less people claiming to be Christian, but, either way, the postmodern worldview of our times is winning out in the battle for the minds and hearts of our young – and in particular, including those brought up in Church.

Read on, and maybe later this year the rest of the booklet will be available to give you the answer to the problem that is identified in what I share with you here.

Credits to Dr David Geisler whose material most of this comes from, and with whom I am writing this particular booklet. See www.meeknessandtruth.org

Beginning of quotation from booklet draft introduction

INTRODUCTION: Did you know?

What percentage of our American Church-kids do you think continuing in their Christian beliefs and Church attendance as adults?

Did you know it could be as low as 11 percent?

This is an extra-ordinary thing, and if you feel concerned about this you are not alone!

This booklet is written for is to help you understand some reasons for what is happening to our Church family young people, for it is not happening without reason! It is our hope that by understanding you might then be able to make a difference for your own family!

Would like your children to grow up Christian?

Please us as we look at what is happening, as we consider why, and as we then work our way toward practical conclusion that we believe can make a difference for you!

I. How the world has changed and the effect on our young

Did you know the cell phone was invented in 1973? That seems like ages ago to some of us because we only began to carry cell phones from the mid-1990s onwards, but whenever it was – this technology reflects a fast-changing world. While the world has been around for a long time, it was only commonly possible to make a phone call from the top of a mountain in the last 20 years! The world has changed, and dramatically!

[The moral change]

But technology is not all that has changed. Our whole culture has. It is called ‘postmodernism’, and the effects have been powerful and widespread. Its as if the world is developing a mega-culture all of its own, but many aspects of it that are inconsistent with our faith. Consider the growing acceptability of divorce, cohabitation, sexual promiscuity, pornography, perversion, teen pregnancy and abortion, not to mention the general increase and acceptability of dishonesty, cheating and lying. But these are the tip of the iceberg, for the change is deeper.

[The evidence]

Did you know that while 85% of Americans self-identify themselves as Christians 83% of those said they believed that moral truth depended on the circumstances? Only 6% of them said moral truth was absolute. That is staggering! As an example of what that means in daily life, in a similar survey 60% of ‘Christians’ surveyed believed that living with someone of the opposite sex without being married was morally acceptable behavior.

[The more significant deeper change]

Why would a Christian believe sexual immorality was acceptable, when it is so clearly listed as a sin in Scripture? It is because this change in moral viewpoint is merely the surface evidence of an entire change in worldview that has taking place behind the scenes. For example, beyond mere moral change, lets consider the religious change: One survey found that 57% of evangelical Church attendees believed many religions could lead to eternal life. Such ‘pantheistic’ belief (all roads) is a vastly different to, and entirely incompatible with, Christian ‘Theism’ (One God who planned us, made us, loves us and saves us). In other words, more than half of those who attending Church are not even convinced of the truth of Christ’s claims – these being the supposed fundamental beliefs of our faith!

[The greater impact on our young]

But it gets worse, for whiles these statistics reflect what is happening as a whole, the impact is actually much greater on our children. Consider this example. In another Barna report, while 44% of born-again Christian adults were certain that absolute moral truth existed, only 9% of born-again teenagers felt certain of the same! That is a big difference! The influence of our culture is affecting our young much more than our old. When compared to adults, only a small percentage of our ‘Christian’ teenagers even believe in absolute moral truth. It would be foolish of us, as parents, to let a statistic like that pass by without investigating why, and then seeking to do something about it, don’t you think?

[Understanding why]

So, why are our young unconvinced of the truth of the Christian faith, when for eons past such things were readily accepted? It is because they are given reasons to believe otherwise every day, while Christian parents remain silent in their homes. Its because our culture, our media and our educational institutions are influencing them to believe that religious truth no longer exists, nor fixed morals, while we parents neglect to give them reasons to believe otherwise. It is because the Bible is being attacked and undermined by the media, and we, again, are failing to respond to this by giving them reasons to believe the Bible’s reliability and relevance.

The way they are being taught to think by our culture is disabling our beliefs from becoming the convictions they will live by. While they have been told what Christians believe they have never been given sufficient reason to accept it, especially when held in contrast to the other perspectives they are being exposed to, and given reason to believe. They sit in our Bible studies every week learning the doctrines of our faith, but the deeper link between faith and reason has been disconnected by their worldview. Religion is to them a personal thing, and, like in a buffet meal, we are each free to pick and choose what we want to believe for ourselves. Our failure to give them adequate reason has left the door wide open, and the ‘family silver’ is being taken. While they look like good Sunday school children on the outside, we are not perceiving what they are being led to believe: That truth no longer exists; that there is no fixed morality; that science explains origins; that religion is a personal thing; and that all religions are essentially the same. So, you are a Christian? Their response is a genuine, ‘Good for you!’

“Our children today face unprecedented pressure. They are exposed to sexual temptations, school violence, alcohol, illegal drugs, and a variety of influences that threaten to undo all that we teach them. And while we need to fear what our kids could be tempted to do, we need to be more concerned with what our kids are led to believe.” — Josh McDowell

[How severe is the impact right now?]

The current trends are most easily seen by a quick look at some Church attendance statistics. How many of our Church young people are leaving our Churches? Statistics vary significantly, but comprehensive research by the reputable George Barna confirmed the following; “…six out of ten 20-somethings who were involved in a church during their teen years are already gone.” These are the loved children of Christian parents just like you and me!

[At what age is the impact currently taking effect?]

You might be surprised to learn how young our children are dropping out also. While we might think it is primarily those in their mid to late teens who are engaging with reason who are leaving, it is actually younger. From a survey of those who attended an evangelical Church as youth, “…95% of them attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years; 55% attended church regularly during high school…” Only 11% still attended Church when in their twenties.

Put differently: while 44% dropped out during or soon after high school (maybe fourteen through twenty years old), 40% had dropped out before high school age (age twelve through fourteen, or younger).

The current cultural trend, then, is this: The majority of our Christian family children are walking away from faith. The needed response, however, is not merely with teenagers. It is with primary and middle school aged children too!

[The root problem stated]

The root issue, then, is that the ‘postmodern’ beliefs of our culture are proving more influential than the teaching and influence of many Christian parents and their Churches combined! More than being about which religion is true, it is a worldview conflict, questioning whether any religion is true. Specifically, our Christian-family children and youth are consistently losing their belief in the existence of objective (fixed) truth and morals, in favour of a more ‘relative’ way of viewing the world.

“…a major cause of our current crisis consists of a world view shirt from a Judeo-Christian understanding of reality to a post-Christian one.” — J.P. Moreland

As a part of the mix, religious beliefs have been relegated to the realm of ‘personal’ and ‘individual’, and so these is a loss of any felt need to apply reason to the area of religion, or to discuss religious matters in any truly objective or thoughtful way. This makes reasoning with someone with a postmodern worldview a little more difficult. It is believed that beliefs do not really matter, the justification for this being that all religions are equal (which is to say the are all both right and wrong at the same time).

“During the past thirty years, society has progressively thrown off every moral constraint… Yet today… people are casting off even the final constraints of reality, truth, and reason itself. We are witnessing the complete abandonment of reason and truth.” — Dennis McCallum.

Put simply, there is thus a battle going on between the ideology of nothing, and our ideology of something – and the ideology of nothing seems to be winning out at this time.

“As we approach the twenty-first century, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that our entire culture is in trouble. We are staring down the barrel of a loaded gun and we can no longer afford to act like it is loaded with blanks.” — J.P Moreland

End of quotation from booklet draft introduction (coauthored with Dr David Geisler)

Closing comment:

One of the things that impacted me when talking with some Christians was the discovery that they had fundamental doubts about their faith. A question that has always bugged me is why so many seem passionless in their pursuit of Christ, and in their pursuit of making Him known in this world. It simply didn’t make sense.

But with this discover it began to understand what is happening. I had been influenced by the Church culture around me in both NZ and Singapore — a culture that considered apologetic reasonings to be a ‘side issue’, and even an annoyance. None of us like conflict, and, maybe as a reaction against those who have debated too strongly, we’ve given little time to discussing the reasons for our faith in our Churches. I have however always run apologetic courses, so I’m not entirely guilty in this field, but I realised that what I was doing was insufficient because – like evangelism training in seminars – only 20% of our members attend our seminars. ADULT Christians were living with fundamental doubts, and this was — I believe — the hidden cause of their passionless faiths, as one cannot live with conviction something one does not truly believe!

Some prominent examples for me were Christians whom I discovered to believe in macro-evolution, this being the evolutionary belief that different species actually came about as the result of natural selection and mutation. Quite apart from the very dubious science behind this belief, it is incongruent with our Christian faith, for it reasons that God set things in motion but then left them to themselves – including a lengthy period of time which included suffering and death. Adam and Eve could thus not have been in a perfect world when they eventually existed as the superior species who had outlived (and even killed off — if you trust the theory more than the Bible in the moral/social implications also) their competitors and predecessors. God was thus not good! It was little wonder they struggled to find passion, assurance and conviction in their Christian belief (and with time, its only logical to expect their Christian belief to fade off the side if they will not re-evaluate their primary assumption that macro-evolutionary changes happened).

The reasons that stand in FAVOUR of our faith — as the Bible says it is — are outstanding.

Off the top of my head right now:

  1. the reliability of the Bible texts is categorically in our favour, if the details are investigated

  2. the scientific evidence that there was a beginning to time and space is ALL in our favour, as cause and effect is the most basic of scientific laws

  3. the existence of life is all in our favour, as no one has ever been able to offer a reasonable explanation of how biological life could come about apart from there being a Creator

  4. discoveries into the astounding complexity of the cell stand categorically in our favour — and many scientists who are becoming aware of this research are abandoning their atheism.

  5. evolutions mechanism for the development of new species – namely natural selection and mutation — are both inadequate explanations for the diversity that exists. The former was abandoned as the key reason many years ago, and the latter has fundamental problems. Change happens within species, but there are limits to it. Mutations usually represent a loss of DNA information, and in the few anomalies that exist where e.g. chromosomes are added to something… the end result is detrimental to the species – not beneficial.

  6. the discovery of the fine tuning of the universe for carbon based life is another astounding evidence of Divine existence.

  7. prophecy, if studied with a reasoned mind (rather than with a closed biased one), is an undeniable proof both of the supernatural anointing on scripture as well as of the authenticity of Chris’s claims.

  8. Supernatural miracles, for those who have seen them, are also evidences.

  9. Archaeology consistently verifies scriptural claims of people, places and dates. Anomalies exist (which sceptics always make great noise about), but in the larger picture of it all it is more than reasonable to leave them as open questions for the time being until more has been uncovered.

Our young (and old) abandon the faith because they slowly come to believe — like the world around us — that truth is relative, and all religions are essentially the same. The rival to our faith is not another religion, but the belief that no religion is true.

It is well past time to start talking about these things from our pulpits — for telling people what the Bible says is not enough in our day and age — we need to also give them a reason to believe anything the Bible says in the first place.

DAVE MANN. Dave is an Author and gifted communicator with a passion for the Gospel. This passion started when he came to faith at age 11. After Secondary School he went straight to Bible College, followed by 7 years in outreach ministry in New Zealand, then nearly 9 as a pastor in Singapore, before returning to New Zealand at the end of 2011. Dave is a visionary and fearless about pioneering initiatives aimed at helping the Church in New Zealand in the area of its mission. Author of various books and Tracts including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and available free on this site: “The what and how of Youth and Young Adult ministry”.
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