I’ve been thinking a lot about the reason faith is a “non-starter” conversation for emerging young adults. Of course, it’s a difficult topic to try to understand when my whole life has been in and around faith circles. After all, I grew up in a Christian School, went to a Christian College, attended a Christian Seminary, and most of my work post-education has been in the “Christian” world.
I’ve had my own share of disappointments with those who label themselves as “Christian,” so I’m in tune with the idea that the word is not a great label of what I want to be about going forward. But I’m torn between the necessity of respecting the old traditional ways of doing faith, and the need for a newer conversation.
In any event, here are some thoughts about why I’m seeing students leave the faith in droves, and maybe there’s a little light on the horizon.
1. I think today’s Students are ready for something real
The more I’m talking with 15-25 year olds, I’m hearing more and more students who are asking for something that really matters. For some reason, when they post a picture of themselves on the internet and their friends all ‘like’ and ‘share’ that picture, there’s some feeling that overcomes them that they’re real people who matter. Of course in the inverse is true. When they post a picture and nobody ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ there’s a feeling of loneliness and insignificance that accompanies the ‘real’ feeling.
I think they know intrinsically, that the picture isn’t a measure of their worth, but for some reason they’ve been conditioned to think there’s a direct correlation between their online reality and what’s real and true in the world.
I’m not proposing that faith people start embracing the culture of selfies. But I do wonder…
Where is the place where a student can feel as though their life really matters in and around faith circles? Much of the time teenagers are given a picture of faith laced with guilt and shame rather than life more abundantly. And although faith has a component of realizing one’s inability to matter in the world, where are the teachings that they do?
2. There’s no place for them to engage
Most faith circles have sent the teenagers to the playroom (the youth house) instead of letting students be a part of the inner circle of faith communities.
My Jewish friends figured this out eons ago, when at the bar mitzvah, a young person is welcomed in the community at an early age. Some traditional communities actually let students come and start having responsibilities as early as 13 years old.
I’ve never seen a church or faith community actually give responsibility to a 13-year-old.
They just buy more X-Boxes and create the playroom off to the side.
We need more “on ramps” for students to take responsibility to engage in our faith communities, so they have a voice. They need to be able to have representatives at the table. But with a spectator environment, like the one’s we have today, it’s more and more difficult to create these on-ramps for students to have real effective change voices.
3. It just doesn’t matter
All the students I’ve talked with this week, if I’m honest; are telling me that faith seems to be a tool to control their behavior. Once they get out of the house and have the option to do life on their own, they don’t know if faith is going to play as an important role in their lives as it does right now.
It’s almost like we’ve created these “peer pressure” groups instead of actually challenging our students to know the essence of faith. Be good. Don’t Drink. Don’t Smoke. Don’t have sex. You’ll be ok. Therefore you’re in the “Christian” faith.
But what of Hope?
What of Forgiveness?
What of Reconciliation?
What of Peace?
These long-term values take discipline, long-term thinking, and a place where they can think about the world around them.
Unfortunately, the things that matter right now are quick, self-seeking, self affirming, and instantly gratifying.
Those of us from faith communities have an obligation to help communicate why faith matters, and then help our students who are interested walk the beautiful road of discovery.
I’m kind of excited for the downturn in faith. To be honest, it’s an incredible opportunity to re-boot the things that are important, and live life in the middle of another great generational transition.