IS THIS THE LAST GENERATION TO PURPOSEFULLY FOLLOW CHRIST?

Is This the Last Generation to Purposefully Follow Christ?

The Concern

Is this the last Christian generation in North America? Mark Oestreicher of Youth Specialties stated recently in Christianity Today, “There are a lot of people who’ve had this nagging sense that we’re missing the mark somehow . . . teens seem happy and willing to attend, and engage in our ministries, but five years from now, when they’re in college or post-college, they just really aren’t connecting with real faith, let alone church.”

I know what you are thinking: “This is not new.” Of course, I agree.

However, some believe it has reached a dangerous new level. This upswing prompted Josh McDowell to co-write a new book with Dave Bellis. Josh states, “the decision to call this [book] The Last Christian Generation was not made lightly nor was it done for sensationalism. I sincerely believe unless something is done now to change the spiritual state of our young people – you will become the last Christian generation!”(1)

Is Josh’s concern justified? Will this trend correct itself or will we follow in the secular footsteps of Western Europe?

How are we doing at converting church involvement by teens into a lifelong relationship with Christ? A 2006 study indicates that over eighty percent of today’s teens attend church for a period of at least two months during their teenage years. What an opportunity! The bad news is that only one out of four of those ‘churched’ youth are still spiritually engaged by age twenty-nine;(2) that is, they are still actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying. In comparison, roughly twice as many adults in their forties are spiritually engaged.

An earlier study looked at the beliefs of teens involved in evangelical churches. Over two-thirds of these young people believe:

• that there is no absolute moral truth
• that Christianity is about showing bad people how to live better
• that there is no way to tell which religion is true
• that Jesus is not the Son of the one true God

And, over half believe that Jesus did not rise from the dead. What?

Is it any wonder that these young people readily abandon their Christian involvement when confronted with a hostile culture?

Possible Causes

Let’s consider some potential causes why 3 out of 4 ‘churched’ teens become disengaged from Christianity during their twenties.

One cause may be the way we define and measure youth ministry. As adults abdicate their training responsibility, our youth are isolated as their own congregation. The measure of success is numerical attendance rather than instilling a life long discipline for spiritual growth. Church becomes a series of fun activities interspersed with encouragement to avoid risky behaviors.

A second factor is primarily teaching topical lessons about  the Christian faith rather than laying a strong foundation of truth. As our teens move into college, professors, peers, and the popular media all portray authentic Christianity in a negative light. It takes a strong foundation to choose to endure hostility when one can adopt a so-called “private faith” and avoid the confrontation. As you know, soldiers participate in exercises simulating the most effective tactics of their opponents before being sent onto the battlefield. Yet, in training our teens, we often avoid exposing them to the tough questions in case some of them are put off by the experience.

A third factor is allowing teens to be content with a second-hand faith. In Joshua, we learn that “Israel served the LORD . . . all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the LORD” (24:31). After these elders who had personally experienced the Lord died, most in Israel fell away from serving God. More recently, during the Welsh revival of 1904, over 100,000 conversions were recorded in less than five months. The impact was so pervasive that police duties were reduced to providing quartets for prayer meetings. A century later, church attendance in Wales is at an all-time low. Only nineteen percent of UK teenagers say they had a religious faith. Luis Palau summed up the Welsh experience by noting, “God has no grandchildren.” Teens who attend church to live out their parents’ faith find it easy to leave the faith to conform to the expectations of their new authority figures.

A new factor, somewhat unique to today’s culture is a “distorted worldview filter” unwittingly adopted by many youth and adults. This filter tells them:

• Truth is relative, not absolute.
• Science and spirituality are at odds.
• Science confirms that I am nothing but insignificant dirt.
• An irrational, spiritual tradition can help me cope with this harsh reality.
• However, I am in no position to critically evaluate someone else’s tradition.

With this distorted filter in place, even solid biblical teaching can leave teens unprepared to stand firm in their faith.

The book “The Last Christian Generation” lists some of the concepts distorted by this filter, for example:

• Truth now means whatever is right for you.
• Tolerance means accepting that each individual’s values and lifestyles are equally valid.
• Moral judgments mean bigoted attitudes we have no right to hold.

Many teens are synthesizing Christian teaching and popular culture into a new personal religion. In their 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (3) the authors found that religious teens tend to hold a vague group of functionally religious beliefs the authors termed “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Its key tenets are:

• God is distant and uninvolved in daily life.
• But I can call on God as a “cosmic therapist” when I have a problem.
• My purpose is to be happy and feel good about myself.
• If I avoid being an intolerant jerk, I will go to heaven.

Although these beliefs could be considered theistic, they definitely are not evangelical Christianity.

What happens when these beliefs are put to the test? I’ve known Julie (not her real name) all her life. Julie consistently attended youth group. She was also tuned into the popular culture. When her circumstances disappointed her, she turned to God as her “therapist.” When He did not change her circumstances to suit her, she decided that God was not worth her time. Instead, she chose to escape her circumstances through drugs. She had distorted the truth into a perversion that prevented her from having a solid relationship with her Creator.

Potential Solutions

How should we respond to this disturbing trend?

Historically, much of youth ministry has been about getting the crowd in the door and keeping them involved. Recent studies show we are doing a good job at this function. But we are not doing well if we measure success by how many are still actively involved through their twenties. If the problem is not getting them in the door, it must be in what is happening once they are involved.

Josh McDowell suggests that we need to readjust both what is being taught and how it is being taught.

What should we teach? Although we should not ignore behavioral issues such as sex, drugs, etc., McDowell calls us to help our teens see the reality of God. If there is a God, it is of paramount importance that we seek to know absolute Truth with a capital T. Consistent with everything the tools of modern science can observe about our universe, they have rational reasons to believe that God has revealed Himself to us through His Word.

McDowell and Bellis suggest teens must learn to know Him as the God of redemption, relationships, and restoration. A clear understanding of each of these aspects serves an important role in countering the tenets of today’s teen religion which I call “iPod faith” (choosing what we like or deleting what we don’t like based on our own preferences) which we define as “moralistic therapeutic deism”:

• Knowing the God of redemption tells them that good people don’t go to heaven; redeemed people go to heaven. Our definition of good is so shallow compared to a transcendent, holy God. We must rely on Him for redemption.
• Knowing the God of relationships tells them God is not a cosmic therapist, but a personal heavenly Father, intimately involved in all aspects of life.
• Knowing the God of restoration highlights that our earthly life is a brief precursor to eternity. This truth changes our central goal to creating eternal value in Christ.

Youth who can articulate these truths have taken a big step to repairing their distorted worldview filter.

Christianity is often communicated as a set of behavior rules covering one topic at a time, rather than as a deep relationship emulating the character of our heavenly Father. Bits of knowledge and rules for behavior are not a comprehensive worldview.

So how does this affect us in our local church setting?
The entire inter-generational community is modeling their faith and articulating their biblical worldview. For this model to work, parents and youth leaders, together, must continually express their reasons for believing that Jesus is the truth in a world that says there is no truth. Teens must experience a community of faith willing to trade in a life purpose of being happy for a life purpose of building eternal value through serving Jesus.

This may sound like a daunting task, but when I see the heart of our ‘Bethel Church’ youth ministry directors (Mike & Judy) and the other capable and committed youth leaders I say there is hope and future generations will benefit because of it.

The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet… but I believe God has called all of us to be a part of responding to this challenge. So my answer to the titled question is NO, this is not the last generation to purposefully follow Christ.

 

Notes

1. Josh McDowell & David Bellis, The Last Christian Generation (Holiday, Fla.: Green Key Books, 2006).
2. “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years,” The Barna Update, Sept. 11, 2006, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/147-most-twentysomethings-put-christianity-on-the-shelf-following-spiritually-active-teen-years.
3. Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2005).
4. Bruce Murray, “Understanding the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Teenagers,” FACSNET, www.facsnet.org/issues/faith/youth.php.

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8 responses to “IS THIS THE LAST GENERATION TO PURPOSEFULLY FOLLOW CHRIST?”

  1. Ron Lagerquist says :

    No matter how catchy or clever the laser lights, well-choreographed music, and talented speakers, they cannot compete with Angry Birds, night clubs and sexualized media. But the gates of hell will never prevail against the true Church or spiritual hunger. The best way to get the teens back to Church is by the adults living it. Most teens in Lindsay have no idea who Bethel is. And they don’t care. The ones I talk to are suffering profoundly, and if you have the courage to reach past the wall of attaude, they will open up. But I warn you, it’s simple but is not easy, and they will see right past your pretense. If you were to trade your laser lights with simply stoping and talking to some of those damaged people walking down town Lindsay, really risk it, get out of your comfort zones and and prayer meetings, then things will change.

  2. Anthony Does says :

    @RonLagerquist – Good stuff Ron. Come help us… we could use your insight and your passion. BTW’s I don’t recall if we have ever used lasers,,, sounds cool but I agree it doesn’t change a life.

  3. Ron Lagerquist says :

    When I am taking to people a always tell them to check Bethel out, because in my opnion it’s the most real Church in town.

  4. wattssue says :

    I hear loud and clear what Ron is saying. And Bethel is hardly the only one agonizing over this well known issue. I think it safe to say we do not use these flashier methods to reach youth other than at specialized conferences attended yearly, which is OK. Generally relational means are the way.

    Being downtown has brought both youth and adults right off the street, and we need to do MORE.
    But in repsonse to Ron’s thought provoking letter, traditional CHURCH,( in my opinion and in the opinion of many others) is NOT the answer. Jesus is of course. But how we introduce him to a post modern world is. That is all that is important. ANd beyond introduction there is the need to now get to KNOW Him both spiritually, emotionally, personally. That takes time and time and more time two to one and three to one and etc.
    The answer will be relational and it will be out of the box. Most churches know this. Most struggle with what to do and how to do it. We KNOW programmes are not the answer.

    Social media has changed the face of everything for not just the church but EVERYONE. Parents cant reach their children. Schools cant reach their students. People cant build real connections. People reach their partners through internet dating.

    “Kids” or younger generations also have no awareness or are not convinced there is a problem or agree if the social media is even causing one. There are a million and one issues and we all hurt and want to touch the lives of hurting people. How that happens will require the wisdom of God. BUT He does promise wisdom to those who ask,
    The main issue I think is : Do we agree there is a tragic need? What are we willing to sacrifice to meet the need? How flexible are we willing to be to address the need? When those questions are answered and a passion is fueled then with God anything is possible.
    We live in a world where even the secular are grasping the pain of generation: what Ron sees.
    But God will show us His heart, which breaks for this situation, if we but ask. And are determined and focusesd and willing to do everything it is going to take from us personally to help.

  5. Anthony Does says :

    @SueWatts – Your question, “What are we willing to sacrifice to meet the need?” is right on. Thanks for the comment you made today and voice you have everyday to let others know of the need.

  6. Ron Lagerquist says :

    I want to ask an honest question. Honest because I do not have the answer. If Jesus was passing through Lindsay, and decided to reach out to this people, how would he do it? Would he go to the York on a Friday night at around 12, order a beer, sit in the top part where it’s less loud so you can talk over the music, and connect with the people there? It’s a place where people want to talk, to open up and share. It’s our town’s meeting place, our watering hole. What is Anthony and Sonya went to the York every Friday, had a few beers and got to know people? I would join them too. In fact we could get a few of us out. But I’m not slow dancing with Anthony.

  7. Andrew Alleyne says :

    I love this BLOG! If you were to stand in a stadium and ask people “what are the 5 most important messages or sermons they ever heard in their life,” it would take people quite some time to come up with 5 different messages, titles and everything. You might have the few odd ball here and there. But if you stood up and asked people “Who are the 5 most influential people in your life,” for the most, people would be able to come up with the answer to that rather quickly. From teacher’s, to youth leaders, to their parents, etc. I think this paints a great picture when it comes to the reality of how ministry as a whole should look like!

    When we look at Jesus example of ministry, people have to understand that it was the very same people he preached too, who in days to come would be yelling “crucify him!” But it was the 12 people he chose to do life with that really ended up catching the vision after some much needed encouragement (they flee’d after his death). They really laid the foundation of the early church. Jesus’ example is best to follow. It’s great to do “traditional” church, where we sing songs, preach the word, but add the component of genuine friendships, relationships, DISCIPLESHIP… you get better results.

    This is very true with youth too! As a youth Pastor, I’ve realized that I can preach until I’m red in the face, prepare all week for a “HOT, FIRE and BRIMSTONE ” word, which don’t get me wrong, THAT IS HUGE on some aspects, and the Holy Spirit moves, and God shows up! But when I first started building this youth ministry and it’s department, I find that more so than the “Friday Night Lights,” it was my driving to one of my youth’s houses to shoot some hoops, or taking a few of them out to eat, or having them sneak me into their highschool (don’t always recommend LOL) and giving me a tour, it was those things that really served as a Catalyst in taking our ministry to the next level (AND WE GOT ALOT MORE TO LEARN LOL).

    Great Article! I’ll be referencing some of it! 😉

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