It’s worse than you thought

Fifteen years ago, I started a youth summer camp out in Durango Colorado.  It’s been an incredible place to learn from a broad cross section of teenagers who come to summer camp from all over the world.  I’ve often referred to the camp time as “My little Laboratory” because students are so great at helping me understand how trends change.  They’re informative, they’re caring, and above all, they’ve become my dear friends over the years.

Yesterday, I was talking with a few students about the latest poll numbers of “christians” in America and the overwhelming number of 30 and unders who don’t claim any faith at all.  (today labeled The Nones.)

When I told them about the 30% number, I saw a few faces in our small group kind of wince.  Of course, I thought it was because they were thinking 30% is much too high of a number.  But after I finished, one of the guys said, “30% is all?  I would guess 70% if I were looking at my community.  We just don’t talk about faith anymore.”

70%.

For those of you out there who are appalled by the 30% number, let me be the first to inform you, it’s much worse than you thought.

These kids who are here come from families who are faith full.
By in large, most of them attend some sort of faith community.
They’re the ones who are trying to connect with some sort of spiritual life.  (all be it, not all christian)

But to say that 70% of students are giving up on faith issues is disturbing to me, and while my friend helped me see the reality of his own community, heads were nodding in agreement all around the circle.

My first reaction was to come back to my office and ask, “What have we done?”  We’ve had the BEST programs the church has ever known.  We’ve had the BEST leader training.  We have access to the BEST speakers.  We can download the BEST materials ever produced.  What in the world are we missing?

I don’t think my reaction is to address some strange notion that to have more people in “my club” equals “winning.”  But my curiosity is being stoked because we spend an inordinate amount of money on these programs and materials, trips and staff, and for what?  What are we actually accomplishing?  Have we forgotten the epicenter of what we set out to do almost 100 years ago when we created this demographic called Teenagers and Young Adults in our faith circles.

Sorry for the report today.  I have to get back to mentoring students.  But I thought I’d drop a quick line and warn you…the 30% report is only the beginning.  It’s much worse than we thought.

7 Comments

  1. I completely agree with your students that the number is much closer to 70%. As a “young adult,” most of my community falls into the camp of no faith. Conversations with my friends have led me to believe that people have lost interest in faith because they don’t see the Church doing much of anything. We argue about moral issues, but somewhere along the way we seem to have lost sight of the mission set out by Jesus to love the poor, the sick, the widow, and the orphaned. The best speakers, programs, leaders, and resources don’t mean much if we aren’t moving out in love.

    1. AGREEE. AGREE. AGREEE. I think you’re spot on. ‘the best speakers, programs, leaders and resources don’g mean much if we aren’t moving out in love.” A-MEN!! and A-MEN

  2. Hi Andy,

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. All of the p rograms are a big part of the problem! Jesus never made any charge to set up insurmountable amount of programs and studies. His charge was to go out and make disciples! You yourself said at the youth meeting at our church (Mountain Life in Park City) that you wanted to apologize to the youth for our culture becoming a place where the youth are farmed out whenever possible. We especially do that in the church. Kids are taken as they walk into the church to go straight to children’s ministry programs under the pretense that the parents can enjoy and take in the service without having to take care of their children’s needs. The youth as well never attend Sunday services with their parents because they are in the youth programs. There is nothing in scripture that says it is the churches responsibility to disciple children. Scripture states that it is the parents responsiblity! And of course, parents can’t truly be disciple just by going to church on Sunday morning or by possibly participating in one of the programs offered by the church. The male leaders of the church need to disciple the heads of the household, the husbands, one on one .

    You also spoke to the parents and told them their children’s faith would only go as deep as they go with their walk with Jesus. Most professing Christians I know in the church believe sharing their faith is a personal thing not to go further than church on Sunday or one of the programs they are in. Instead of all the programs the church should get busy discipling fathers. It is also a proven statistic that the family unit goes only as deep spiritually as the fathers (doesn’t matter what spirituality one has embraced). No wonder so many parents today wonder why there is such a disconnect with them and their growing children/youth. We have allowed every one else to raise them.

    I believe it is truly pretty easy to figure out. W hat does scripture have to say about it?

    You yourself said the current generations aren’t interested with flash but with truth . That is what Jesus recommend; discipling with His Truth! Really don’t need anything else but the Truth and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His part.

    Blessings, Moira Michaels

    1. Thanks Moira. I think you’re on to something here. We need to figure out a way to tell the story Jesus called us to tell, rather than replacing the story with what doesn’t matter. Thank you for your time here.

  3. Hi Andy,

    At the risk of intruding on your blog as a definite outsider, your post certainly raises some interesting and legitimate points of concern for the Christian community. I’ve also read with interest the poll results regarding religious belief in the US. I’m a former believer and, you may recall, apologetics enthusiast so perhaps my perspective might yield something worth thinking about. Most of the folks that I have these types of chats with (fellow atheists, agnostics, etc.) who grew up in the church or otherwise had meaningful ‘faith lives’ before walking away have multiple reasons for becoming one of “The Nones”. However, there tend to be some unifying themes that routinely pop up during discussions around the campfire (or at the pub in most instances).

    -A deep sense that much of Christianity’s message is irrelevant to the dog-eat-dog reality many of my peers face (this is also true of much of what I recall being discussed as a teenager/twenty-something).
    -A sense that much of what is claimed in “historical Christianity” simply is factually not true and relies on an incredibly tenuous set of beliefs and ‘what ifs’ so as to ultimately seem farcical.
    -A sense that “faith” is a cop-out when evidence-based attempts to explain what’s going on in the world fail. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    -A belief that things like prayer are placebos and reflect/betray a strange sense of injustice when God saves some during a natural disaster and allows others to die. (For my part, I get really frustrated when people ask for prayers and thank God for delivering them from some medical calamity, but don’t bother to mention their doctors. This phenomenon sends many folks I know into a sputtering fury).
    -A sense that science has pretty well displaced religion as the dominant way of explaining the world around us – the world’s major religions were established during the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages before we knew why the Sun comes up, what germs are, what earthquakes are, etc. – and it strikes many as laughable that people still try to explain these things through spiritual origins and religious language, etc.
    -The world is ‘getting smaller’. It’s really easy and relatively affordable to travel the globe and learn/experience how other peoples and cultures interpret reality. (In Cambodia, for instance, they won’t displace a termite mound to build a house for fear that this will bring down the wrath of the termite spirits and the house will be eaten by termites anyway. I’ve had Christian friends mock this without recognizing that they too believe in things that can’t be demonstrated and could very well strike others as immensely silly – the fact that their beliefs are more mainstream seems to justify their position.) This is basically cultural relativity and I don’t blame thoughtful Christians at all for wondering how their faith can be “the one” while there are so many other traditions, beliefs, histories and cultures out there.

    The point by Hannah, above, about losing sight of helping the poor, the sick, the widowed and the orphaned resonates strongly, as well. The opulent lifestyles of prominent Christian pastors (Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, etc.) just seem like the biggest bunch of nonsense to those outside the church (and one of the reasons those who have left lost patience with it in the first place). Mark 10:21-22 comes to mind. This says nothing of the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church (if we’re feeling ecumenical when describing the Christianity). The Nones see all this and just shake their heads.

    All of the discipling, church services, prayer groups, etc. won’t mean a thing if there’s a sense that the foundational elements of the belief system are outdated, illogical, or just false – or that the leaders of the broader community are corrupt, hypocritical, or otherwise missing the point. That’s what The Nones are grappling with (not that I can speak for all of us/them). I’m still interested in religion and have a soft spot for my Christian friends and their traditions – just not what they believe. I get offended when I hear people trashing religion, and Christianity in particular, as it was a big part of who I am today and certainly provided a strong sense of community when I needed one. My thoughts above are just my way of perhaps providing a perspective of why “The Nones” phenomenon has actually happened, as someone who has definitely walked away.

    This certainly isn’t comprehensive and there are a ton of points and counterpoints to be made, but I hope this is at least somewhat interesting to you.

    Respectfully, your friend –
    Jake

    1. Thanks Jake. I think you make some incredibly important points. I appreciate the time and effort you took to help us see how you’re thinking. I also believe many of your points are valid, and call into question those of us who do hold faith as a deeply transformational part of our lives. I’m going to take some time re-reading what you commented here, and dwell for a while on the points you made. This is good stuff, brother.

  4. Such an interesting conversation and I welcome this kind of respectful dialog. Thank you for your honesty Jake. Although we see things differently I really think that more open and transparent conversation can’t do any harm… but only help to provide perspective. and I agree with Hannah too … our focus has got to be back where Jesus called us – instead of pointing our fingers at everyone elses morality flaws. We have gotten so far off track and it seems we forgot how to love.

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