A friend dropped this book off at my desk a while back and I finally had time to read it. This book is worth your time. Don’t stop, go get the book and read it this week. OK?
The subtitle of the book is this: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Is that provocative enough for you? The scary part is that they are correct! In my circles, kids are less likely to stop going to church; they are more likely to migrate from very conservative churches to more standard evangelical churches. So I’ve been asking the question: why is this generation leaving conservative churches. Ham and Beemer ask a more fundamental question: why is this generation leaving church?
The answer is the same: a lack of relevancy in modern churches. And by relevancy, I don’t mean “cool,” but rather “useful for life.” Ham and Beemer have done a series of studies on twenty-somethings who attended evangelical and conservative churches as children and now rarely if ever attend church. (Beemer is a professional pollster and has real-world experience creating legit polls and evaluating the data.)
The results might surprise you; they ought to shock you. Most of these young adults have a good view of the Bible and evangelical theology; they’ve left because the perceive the church to be less than useless to their lives. The book begins by attacking Sunday School as the main culprit. I disagree with that assessment (though I do think we screw up by teaching Bible “stories”). Sunday School may have implementation problems, but Sunday School is just a manifestation of a larger issue. Really the problem is twofold. First, there is a lack of spirituality amongst Christians. Second, there is a refusal to utilize logic and critical thinking skills.
To the first point, may Christians set their spiritual lives on autopilot and refuse to rock the boat. This shallow approach to Christian living teaches the young that the Bible is a great morality tale and is sorta useful as a guideline to life. Ham makes an interesting point at the end of the book. It is insufficient to read your Bible each day. You must study it and more importantly you must think about it. I’ve noticed that the times that I am called on to teach are the times that my walk is deepest. Before I teach a Sunday School class, I spend 10+ hours in preparation with most of that time thinking through the meaning and purpose of the text. So yeah, I think he’s right on that point and that this case can be made from the Psalmist as well. (By the way, in Psalm 15:2, we find that the righteous man “speaks the truth in his heart.” I recommend you spend time thinking about the ramifications of that point.)
How many Christians do you know that look down on those who smoke, drink, have sex outside of marriage and sniffle about that great sinner? How many of those Christians lie, cheat, play politics for position in the church or generally whine or snap at people? Which is worse: worrying or stealing? Matthew 6 implies that worrying is the defining characteristic of unbelievers…. Kids see this hypocrisy and recognize that while the people might be nice/good people, they aren’t trustworthy role models.
To the second point, failure to utilize logic and critical thinking skills leaves children with unresolved dichotomies. A friend once told me that though he grew up in a good home and in good churches, he assumed evolution was true. This was not because his parents or church taught him it was true, but because it was what he learned non-stop in school. It was not until college when someone detailed the scientific case for creation that he realized the fallacy of evolution. So here was a child who believed that God created in six days and that evolution was true. He kept that as an unresolved dichotomy for years.
The surveys taken by Beemer discovered that many kids (starting in upper elementary school) begin developing these dichotomies. Often authorities tell them: the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it for me. That’s no answer! That’s blind faith and we have a reasonable faith. Give the kids a reason to believe. Unfortunately, we seldom do that. Kids want to know the pros/cons of smoking or drinking, they want to know why premarital sex is bad, they want to know why their parents believe the Bible is true, they want to know how they can trust the Bible to be error-free and what inspiration means. They want to know! They need to know why they should base their belief in this book that their friends tell them is useless for anything more than moral guidance. Tell them! and don’t tell them that this is what the church or pastor or someone else believes. Don’t tell them that you said they should believe it and never question it again. Have honest open and forthright discussions. Ensure that your answers are grounded in logical thinking.
I remember a fight (or four) I had with a friend growing up. I was taught not to do things like attend the theater or listen to “bad” music. I look back on these fights/debates today with chagrin. My reasons were simply parrotings of illogical statements. My friend was pointing out all the myriads of holes in the arguments I had used. So don’t tell me that kids won’t see through stupid arguments. They do. And when you tell them that they should believe something or not do something and back it up with illogical fluff, don’t be surprised when they ignore you. You let them down and you gave them no reason to believe you.
Pat answers won’t cut it.
I’ve been arguing for some years now that my generation is leaving our churches because they don’t get answers. (If you spend any time in very conservative churches, you’ll discover that they this makes me unpopular….) The truth is, this survey confirms that idea and reveals that the problem is much greater than I had imagined. What are you doing about it? I know where I need to work personally.