How could teenagers who go to church so often know so little -- or at least believe so little -- of the historic Christian faith? And whose fault is it?

Trouble Brewing for the Future

Whether we blame parents, church leaders, the kids themselves, the culture, or some combination, one thing seems clear: Apparently, many church-going teens are not being challenged by the preaching and teaching of the true Gospel. How else can one explain the overwhelming assumption among teens that they are Christian, when they clearly are not?

Soul Searching suggested: "It appears that these conservative Protestant youth have not been very successfully inducted into their tradition's distinctive commitment to Christian particularity, evangelism, the need to accept all that the Bible teaches, and serious church involvement."

It should not be surprising then, that when many of these church-going teens leave home, whatever facade of Christian commitment existed in high school crumbles and falls away.

For example, a 2004 study released by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) examined church attendance by college students. UCLA researchers found that in 2000, just over 80 percent of college freshman said that they had attended church services frequently or occasionally during their last years in high school. During their freshman year at college, that dropped to 52 percent. And by 2003, as those freshmen were going through their junior year, only 29 percent could make that same claim.

Of course, some of that could be explained by the busy pace that many students experience as they go off to college. But Barna said his research indicated that many young people just don't see church playing a major role in their lives.

"One unmistakable indication of the brewing trouble comes from the response to a question concerning how likely teens say they are to attend church once they are independent," he said in Real Teens. "After they graduate from high school or move away from home, just two out of five teens contend it is 'very likely' that they will attend a Christian church on a regular basis, and another two out of five say it is 'somewhat likely.'

"What makes these figures most alarming is that questions of this type typically produce an overestimate of future behavior," Barna continued. "If we apply a 'correction factor' to these responses, we would estimate that about one out of three teenagers is likely to actually attend a Christian church after they leave home."

Unless Christian leaders want to contemplate a future -- much like that unfolding in Europe -- in which their youth abandon Christianity in droves, there must be a brutally honest re-examination of how we do church. After all, our youth are not only our political and cultural future, but they are our religious future as well.

That's a fact we might want to consider now, while those same teens are sitting in church with us, week after week.

Ed Vitagliano, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is news editor of AFA Journal, a publication of the American Family Association. This article, reprinted with permission, appeared in the November/December 2005 issue.

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