What you’re about to read might engender a slight headache and an uneasy feeling of despair. But if “facts are our friends,” then we need to welcome them and learn from them, even if we don’t like them.
David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock have written a groundbreaking book on five practices of young adults who possess resilient faith in our chaotic culture. Their research through the Barna Group indicates that among today’s 18- to 29-year-olds who grew up in the Church, 22% no longer identify as Christian, 30% identify as Christian but no longer attend church, 38% believe and attend infrequently, which leaves 10% who are actively engaged in a personal relationship with Jesus and are strongly rooted in the church (Faith for Exiles, 32-33).
The good news is that this percentage of young Christians whose faith is robust and vibrant represents just under four million people. The bad news is that, according to this study, 90% of young adults raised in the church either no longer believe in Jesus and have nothing to do with the church, or they believe in Jesus but still have nothing, or almost nothing, to do with the church.
One of the key practices that differentiate the fallen from the faithful is the development of meaningful relationships within the church. In other words, young adults who were mentored, discipled, and loved by others from the Body of Christ developed a resilient faith. Those who merely attended services didn’t.
When surveyed, only 5% of those raised in church but who claim no faith today indicated that the church was a place where they felt they belonged. Of those raised in the church who now display a resilient faith in Jesus, 88% said the church is a place where they feel they belong.
The application couldn’t be more obvious. If we don’t want to see our churches snuffed out in the next ten to twenty years, we need to build meaningful relationships with the next generation. And this isn’t just a parenting issue. This is an “all-in.” We all need to engage in creating environments where children and students know they are loved, welcomed, and encouraged to use their gifts as fully functioning participants in the Body of Christ.
Don’t isolate yourself from the next generation. When you see parents and children in the hallways of your local church, greet them. Smile. Ask them how they’re doing. Get to know their names. Volunteer. Pray.
You never know. You may be helping the next generation and their parents discover that Church is not just a formality of religious education. You may be helping raise up the next generation of resilient disciples who will change the world.
“Jesus said, `Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Matthew 19:14, NIV).