Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A rare helpful Barna article

It's not really any "news" that many younger folks leave the church during college years, but eventually come back when they have kids. Of course some don't. Probably many, but I don't know percentages. I could make one up that might be just as accurate if pressed.... 

Here's a new article by the Barna Group. Normally those words make me cringe. Barna's ecclesiology leaves something to be desired. Very desired. I heard an interview with him once where he said "I don't go to church." Not only that but the Barna Group's research methods have been at times deemed questionable at best, according to some.  Nevertheless, I actually liked this article because it didn't provide alarmist statistics to cause panic. 

Instead of yelling "fire," this article discusses 6 reasons why young adults leave the church, and even includes some possible solutions to the problems. So even though percentages are thrown your way, they seem to take more of a back seat.

Again, you can read the article here. If you've gotten this far into this post, I don't doubt that at all. So I'll just comment on two of the reasons. And apologize for the weird formatting that follows-I tried 3-4 times to "pretty" it up. No luck. 


One of the reasons include the exclusivity of the gospel message amidst a pluralistic culture. You can't do a whole about that "problem." Now you can not be arrogant and not demonize those who don't love Jesus. That's called loving your neighbor or your enemy. But you can't include them as part of God's family when John 1:12 tells us that those who believe in Jesus have been given the right to become children of God. Jesus gives that right. No one else does.

Unfriendly to Doubters 

Perhaps the reason that gave me most "hope" to work with was number 6.

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

Is the church really unfriendly to those who doubt? Well that depends upon the church. Certainly many are, and certainly many have ignored Jude's warning (although most people probably ignore that book altogether) "have mercy upon those who doubt (vs 22)." 

Sometimes the problem lies with a perception of unfriendliness. It's not that those who doubt (and we all do in some way) can't ask the questions to those in the church. It's often that those who have such questions, want to answer them isolation of the church. That way they can be objective with their struggles. But to go in isolation, and listen to voices outside the church (which are far from objective), or to try to discern what the bible "really says"by yourself outside the church, only increases your subjectivity. That's a problem I see in young folk today. 

But on the other hand, do we offer times or promote a culture where kids in the church can really ask questions? Questions that we can affirm as legitimate questions? We've tried to do that with our youth here at Redeemer. In Sunday School, the Sr High are going through The Reason For God video series. In it, hard questions have been raised. I reminded the teacher to welcome such questions, and feel free to say, "I don't know," instead of cringing, freaking out, or being flustered at such (not that she was-she's a great teacher). The youth are asking them to the church, in front of their friends in the church. Hopefully when they have faith crises in college, they'll know the church can be a safe place to doubt.

We've also tried to make the church a safe place to doubt by doing a whole Jr High semester series on THEIR questions during our youth group time. I solicited the questions from THEM. Hopefully Redeemer, and whatever church they go to when they leave this place, will be safe. But just as importantly, I hope that they don't ASSUME their next church isn't. 

Finally, in the home, we can avoid such hard questions (and assume we know how our kids would answer), or we can welcome such questions. Or even raise ones we know are out there. But this is obviously hard, and it scares me to think about. I don't want Connar to say, "Dad, I don't think I believe in the bible." But if he doesn't have the freedom to express this doubt now, he will eventually live out those doubts like many (you don't need a study to tell you that) who leave for college.

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