We’re beginning a new series on youth ministry. Whether you’re Protestant or Roman Catholic, Baptist or Presbyterian there is a troubling trend that is changing the face of Christianity in the West. Christians simply aren’t reproducing. Now, I don’t mean that Christians aren’t having children but they’re not producing Christian children. In other words, they’re not passing on the faith to the next generation, and this is one of the primary features of a process that sociologists call “secularization.”
But before we get any further afield, here’s a brief overview of the problem that we’re dealing with. The so-called mainline Protestant denominations are continuing to experience a precipitous decline. Forty years ago two-thirds of American adults were mainline Protestant. Today, it’s less than 8%. Compare that with Roman Catholics who make 22% of American adults. According to Pew Research, the percentage of those who checked the “No Religion” box was 7 % only five years ago, but now its 15%. More than a third of 18-22 year olds said they don’t identify with any religion.
Back in the 1970s, it was argued that liberal churches were dying and conservative churches were thriving, but today Evangelical Protestantism is also on the decline. The Southern Baptist Convention reports its currently losing 70-80% of its youth after their freshmen year in college. 70% of youth group teens stop going to church within two years of their high school graduation. A more recent Southern Baptist report found that 88% of those raised in Evangelical homes leave church at age 18. Various studies since then range from 61% to as high as 90%.
Well, in the light of all of this troubling data, David Kinnaman of the Barna Research Group concludes that, “Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul, not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school. There are certainly effective youth ministries across the country, but the level of disengagement among 20-somethings suggests that youth ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation. A new standard for viable youth ministry should be, not the number of attenders, the sophistication of events, or the cool-factor of the youth group, but whether teens the commitment, passion, and resources to pursue Christ intentionally and whole-heartedly after they leave the youth ministry nest.”
Well, we think that Kinnaman is right and throughout this series we will be exploring youth ministry in our time. What’s to be done about it? Can youth ministry be reformed? Or is the answer just to get rid of it altogether? There are no easy answers as we’ll see, but there’s no doubt something needs to be done.
To help us figure that out, we will hear from numerous experts, sociologists, youth ministry leaders, critics, and reformers.