What do we make of this statement from David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me:
“Teenagers are some of the most religiously active Americans. American twentysomethings are the least religiously active” (Kindle Location 246-248)
I see it every year at Penn State Berks. Students who were heavily involved in their church youth group do not get involved in any sort of Christian community whether it is church off campus or CSF on campus.
But getting involved in college is only half of it. When I talk to recent grads, students who were in CSF or went to church while in college, many struggle to connect to a church. They observe that many churches have a lot for youth and a lot for families with kids, but not much for single twenty-somethings.
Kinnaman says there are a few key realities to keep in mind:
Teen church engagement remains robust, but many of the enthusiastic teens so common in North American churches are not growing up to be faithful young adult disciples of Christ. There are different kinds of dropouts, as well as faithful young adults who never drop out at all. We need to take care not to lump an entire generation together, because every story of disconnection requires a personal, tailor-made response. The dropout problem is, at its core, a faith-development problem; to use religious language, it’s a disciple-making problem. The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully in a rapidly changing culture (Kindle Location 231-238).
It is tempting to shrug off statistics and stories like these, assuming that when these young people get married and have kids, they will drift back to church. Perhaps some will. But to assume this will be the case in the future is to miss where our culture is presently at.
Our culture has experienced massive changes. I am tempted here to mention the fantastic book I have been working through over the past five months, A Secular Age. But instead I’ll point to just one factor – the ubiquity of the internet and along with it devices such as smartphones. Not that long ago people sitting in the pew at church, or around the circle at a campus Bible study, had no way to fact check the pastor, other than wait till they were home and open a book or encyclopedia. Now people can compare what the pastor is saying to a myriad of other voices, all while sitting in the pew. Some have even said the Web is killing faith.
That is just one factor. The point is that our culture is changing and it is naive to just assume all who wander will return to the church.
Of course, the other temptation is to fear the sky is falling and Christianity will soon have no one left in America. This too seems a bit extreme as we still remain a very religious country and large groups of young people are committed to their faith.
The question I am left with is what can be done to help young adults not just stay in the faith but also flourish as followers of Jesus?