Everybody is worried about the teenagers and twenty-somethings, especially those who are growing up “in the church.” Why are they worried? Because they are not staying “in the church.”
Survey after survey, poll after poll, count after count returns the same result and asks the same question: Young people are “leaving the church” and “Why?”
The latest article that I’ve read about this phenomenon is at “Out of Ur” and is called “The Religious Views of 20-Somethings, Part 1.” (Since this article is called “Part 1,” I would assume there will be a “Part 2″ eventually.)
This study is slightly different in that it was written by World Religions professor and is based on essay questions written by his students. This is how he describes the exercises:
Last semester I assigned the students in the community college World Religions course I teach a series of writing exercises that (I hoped) would help them personalize and internalize the subject matter we were reading about and discussing in class. There were four assignments total, one every four weeks or so. And each was a little more probing. My goal was simply to get these students from diverse religious backgrounds thinking about their experience with religion, assumptions about religious claims, how they understand the role religion plays in their lives.
The author (professor) admits that this is not a scientific study, but I think the answers that his students left on the essay questions are extremely enlightening. There is one point that I think is especially interesting:
In the first assignment, the students wrote about their experience with religion from their earliest memories to the present. Interestingly, most of them had overwhelmingly positive experiences with religion as young children. Some of them expressed being bored or confused during services—temple, mosque, synagogue, or church. But none of them reported leaving the faith of their youth because they had a traumatic experience or because they ultimately disagreed with the community’s teaching. Rather, most of them just stopped going. One week they went; the next week they didn’t. Services didn’t make any real difference in their life.
Think about this last statement for a minute: “Services didn’t make any real difference in their life.”
Guess what? Religious services will never make any real difference in anyone’s life. Yes, for previous generations, there was importance attached to these religious services, whatever religion or tradition or background we may be talking about (Christian and nonChristian alike). However, it was not necessarily the “religion” of the service that caused it to be important. Instead, it was the community aspect.
The religious services of the previous generations were important because they were shared experiences of a local community, typically people who lived in the same vicinity as one another.
Not anymore. Today, people drive for 10, 20, 30 minutes… even longer… to attend religious services with people that they only see during those events. Now, people sit beside strangers to observe religious services. There is nothing special about them because the shared community aspect is gone.
So, what’s the answer? Well, according to most studies, the answer is to make the services “relevant.” In fact, the title of the paragraph that I quoted above is “Religion irrelevant.”
However, if you read the information closely, you’ll see that “religion” (or, spiritual beliefs, at least) is not irrelevant to these young people. They all have spiritual beliefs. In fact, for the most part, they did not report feeling hurt by religion or disagreeing with their religion.
Instead, according to this professor’s limited study, these young people “left the church” for one simple reason: “Services didn’t make any real difference in their life.”
Do you want to see young people (or older people for that matter) hang around and actually grow in their faith and spiritual beliefs? Then, start making a difference in their life. You can’t do that from a platform. You can’t do that from a lectern. You can’t do that from an office or from behind a desk.
If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, then you have to share your life with them and encourage them to share their lives with you. It takes real, intimate relationships. This is what previous generations had with the people who lived nearby (community). It’s what young people are not finding among the church today.