Seraphim Danckaert, a Greek Orthodox layman, responds powerfully to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s essay about why the church is hemorrhaging younger people. Despite what the GOA essay claims, it’s not intermarriage, says Danckaert, who brings social science research into his well-informed response. Excerpts:
One could therefore say that a person is most likely to retain Christian faith throughout adult life if he or she had three meaningful and healthy relationships in their early to mid teenage years: one with faithful Christian parents, one with a faithful Christian mentor outside of the family, and one with God Himself.
If a young person experiences all three relationships in their childhood and especially in their early teenage years, they are far less likely to drift away from their family’s faith tradition as they transition into “emerging adulthood” and beyond. In addition, while all three relationships are important, what the young person observes in the actions and daily life of his or her parents is the most decisive element by far.
The practical conclusion is rather straightforward: For most people, and when viewed as a sociological trend, unless there is a specific adult in a teenager’s life who shows the teenager by example and in the context of a meaningful, long-term relationship how an adult incorporates Christian faith into daily life, no program, camp, mission trip, youth group, worship style, musical trend, Sunday school, church reform, updated pastoral style, modernization, or even catechetical class will make a statistically significant difference. Further, to retain their faith into adulthood young people need to experience God’s grace for themselves, preferably before the latter part of high school.
Teenagers and emerging adults believe in and practice “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” not because their parents and their local church have failed to teach them otherwise, but precisely because that is what their parents and their local church are actually teaching them. As the motto of this website puts it, doctrine matters—and not just the doctrine in a church’s creed, liturgy, bookstore, or pamphlet stand. The actual doctrine of family and local church, as taught to most young people in word and especially deed, ends up driving the next generation from the Church, not because the Church is out of touch with the broader society but because the local church never actually taught and lived by the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the first place.
Danckaert points out that sociological research shows that this critical problem is not limited to the Greek Orthodox, but is widespread throughout American Christianity. If we don’t face up to what the research tells us, and act on it, we will never turn this around. Read the whole thing.