There’s a lot of discussion online lately about young people and the Church – their role in it, why they are (or aren’t) leaving the faith and what Church and ministry leaders should do about it.
You may have seen the articles – CNN’s “Belief Blog” ran a guest post titled “Why millennials are leaving the church.” The Washington Post’s “On Faith” featured some rebuttals, including “The new religious fundamentalists? Millennial Christians.”
First, some perspective.
By some measures, it’s an overstatement to suggest the majority of Christian kids end up leaving the faith. My colleague Rich Bennett wrote an excellent post on the topic over at Dad Matters, and in it he points out that “just 11% of those who abandon their childhood Christian faith say they had a very strong faith as a child and came from a home that practiced a vibrant faith.” (The numbers Rich points to are part of Focus’ own analysis on the matter, which you can check out at our Focus Findings page by reading the latest entry, “Millennial Faith Participation and Retention.”)
In other words, most of those children who grew up and reportedly abandoned their Christianity didn’t have a strong faith to begin with. This serves as a good reminder to parents about the importance of modeling a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ to their kids. You can’t pass along what you don’t have.
An authentic faith goes well beyond matters of style. For example, there seems to be a lot of energy directed towards the aesthetics of formal worship, like whether we sing accompanied by an electric guitar or an organ. Then there’s the “cool factor” a church may or may not have, like whether the pastor wears a robe or a Tommy Bahama shirt tucked out of his pants, not to mention the recent online debate over the use of an iPad or a traditional, bound Bible.
There may or may not be a place for these discussions, but beyond what’s going on at the heart-level, an authentic faith has more to do with the spiritual and faith disciplines laid out in the Bible. These include but are not limited to embracing all of the Scriptures with a soberness of spirit, attending and joining a church and being part of the community of faith, giving of your talents and money, serving others in love. Like a muscle that needs to be worked out in order to become strong, these “exercises” help develop and strengthen our faith and our faith identity.
But what happens when church attendance and participation drops? As the research analysis I pointed to earlier (“Millennial Faith Participation and Retention”) mentions, “Millennials have a smaller engagement with all forms of community participation, which of course includes the church.” It would be challenging for anyone to feel part of a local church if they’re not investing in it.
Enter Boundless, Focus’ outreach to young adults. “Rock the Body,” Boundless’ fall challenge, is encouraging young men and women to commit to, and get involved in, a local Gospel-centered church. Additionally, millennials are encouraged to join or start a small group, begin serving at least once a month, start regular financial giving and to encourage their pastor.
If you have a young adult in your life, you may want to consider encouraging them to visit Boundless and check out “Rock the Body” – and if you’ve been feeling lackluster in your own faith, perhaps you may want to visit the site yourself. After all, the truths presented in this challenge apply to all of us, and will help believers, young and old alike.
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