Based on the news lately, I've been wondering if all our youth ministry models in this country are in need of a massive and complete overhaul. If one of our primary goals is to help our youth be life long participants in the Christian faith and the mission of the Church in the world, the evidence suggests that what we are doing isn't working. This recent report by the Barna Group suggests that even youth who are highly engaged in church ministry in their teen years are more than likely to disappear from the Church altogether once they reach their early 20's:
In fact, the most potent data regarding disengagement is that a majority of twentysomethings – 61% of today’s young adults – had been churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying). Only one-fifth of twentysomethings (20%) have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences. Another one-fifth of teens (19%) were never significantly reached by a Christian community of faith during their teens and have remained disconnected from the Christian faith.
For those young adults who are no longer active in organized Christianity, Barna reports, many still consider themselves spiritual people. They do not see themselves as leaving the faith. Rather, they have ceased to value connection with the local or wider Church:
[T]wentysomethings were nearly 70% more likely than older adults to strongly assert that if they “cannot find a local church that will help them become more like Christ, then they will find people and groups that will, and connect with them instead of a local church.” They are also significantly less likely to believe that “a person’s faith in God is meant to be developed by involvement in a local church.”
And this is not just a problem within the progressive and liberal churches. Evangelical churches are now beginning to see an exodus of youth as well:
Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves. At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement. Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.
So what's to do? Keep going on with the pizza parties and ski trips and once-a-year mission projects to disaster areas? Do we keep segregating youth off into their own isolated space within the church? Do we keep bribing our youth with game nites, movie nites, and lock-ins in exchange for an ocassional Bible study? Lots to ponder here.