Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How Should the Church Respond to the Exodus of Our Youth (Part 1)

There is an alarming trend in the evangelical church that has been going on for over 25 years, but has sharply increased of late: many of our teens are graduating from their youth groups and leaving the church never to return. I would like to host an online discussion about how we should respond to this. Here are some of the statistics and comments that have come out about this.

Last October the NY times published an article called "Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers". Here are some excerpts from the article.

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

“I’m looking at the data,” said Ron Luce, who organized the meetings and founded Teen Mania, a 20-year-old youth ministry, “and we’ve become post-Christian America, like post-Christian Europe. We’ve been working as hard as we know how to work — everyone in youth ministry is working hard — but we’re losing.”

To break the isolation and bolster the teenagers’ commitment to a conservative lifestyle, Mr. Luce has been organizing these stadium extravaganzas for 15 years. The event in Amherst was the first of 40 that Teen Mania is putting on between now and May, on a breakneck schedule that resembles a road trip for a major touring band. The “roadies” are 700 teenagers who have interned for a year at Teen Mania’s “Honor Academy” in Garden Valley, Tex.

More than two million teenagers have attended in the last 15 years, said Mr. Luce, a 45-year-old, mop-headed father of three with a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard and the star power of an aging rock guitarist.

“That’s more than Paul McCartney has pulled in,” Mr. Luce asserted, before bounding onstage for the opening pyrotechnics and a prayer.

For the next two days, the teenagers in the arena pogoed to Christian bands, pledged to lead their friends to Christ and sang an anthem with the chorus, “We won’t be silent.” Hundreds streamed down the aisles for the altar call and knelt in front of the stage, some weeping openly as they prayed to give their lives to God.

The 4 percent is cited in the book “The Bridger Generation” by Thom S. Rainer, a Southern Baptist and a former professor of ministry. Mr. Rainer said in an interview that it came from a poll he had commissioned, and that while he thought the methodology was reliable, the poll was 10 years old.

“I would have to, with integrity, say there has been no significant follow-up to see if the numbers are still valid,” Mr. Rainer said.

Mr. Luce seems weary of criticism that his message is overly alarmist. He said that a current poll by the well-known evangelical pollster George Barna found that 5 percent of teenagers were Bible-believing Christians. Some criticize Mr. Barna’s methodology, however, for defining “Bible-believing” so narrowly that it excludes most people who consider themselves Christians.

Since the 4-5% figure maybe off a little bit off let's grant that up to 10% of evangelical teens might stay with their evangelical churches. This is still very alarming, but what I find just as alarming is that it seems that most evangelicals who are pointing this out are advocating the same tactics that have been used for the past 20-25 years only repackaged with an alarmist tone.

The big teen rally is not new! Youth for Christ has been doing this for well over 50 years. But don't get me wrong I am not really for something new. I am for something very old. I am for returning to simply focusing on the preaching of the word and discipleship. I don't think that youth ministry should look much different than adult ministry. After all teens are really just young adults. I think that the reason that teens often leave the church is because they have never been to church. Instead they have always been a part of a program that was something less than church. They have often been entertained, often had their felt needs massaged, often been encouraged to do radical things, often even loved, but seldom have they been exposed to straightforward teaching from God's word. In other words there has been alot of buzz , but not a lot of Bible. I do apreciate Ron Luce's desire to move towards something more substantive for teens, but are we doing them a favor by packaging it in hip teen culture? The old saying that "what it takes to get them there is what it takes to keep them there applies." If we are going to package youth ministry in pop teen culture then we will also have to package every other ministry in the pop culture of its age group. This means that corporate services will also have to look more and more like prime time TV and less and less like simple Christianity. This does not seem to fit Paul's admonition to Timothy in 2 Tim. 4.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.NASB95

What principles from scripture will guide the evangelical church through this dilemna. More later.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to part 2. I agree because I believe Rom1:16. A man centered theology can only lead to man centered belief and is destined to fail. It's all about content as stated in 1Cor. Thanks for the insight! Bob W

TheBlueRaja said...

Hi Caleb. One interesting aspect of this concern is the way data is derived to prove the trend. Do you subscribe to Books and Culture? It's a great mag, and the latest issue had an article about how Evangelicals misuses statistics. The prime example was about the precise trend you're talking about. Check out.

Caleb Azure said...

Thanks for your comment Blue Raja. I do not subscribe to Books and Culture Magazine. I apreciate the article which shows that the statistics may be exagerated. I will take a closer look at the various surveys that have come out recently. However, as we look around at the churches in our communities it does seem clear that many of our youth are abandoning the church, so I think a discussion on this topic would be helpful.

Caleb Azure said...


I am glad you brought up Rom. 1 & 1 Cor. 1. We will definetly circle back to these texts in our discussion. Thanks for the encouragement.

Kiana said...

Thanks for writing this.