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More De-Churching Of America

Readers respond with reports from the field
Frowsty barns (Wallace Weeks/Shutterstock)

Here are two strong responses to my post “The De-Churching Of America”:

This from reader Craig:

“If living out the faith is not important to you, your kids will notice this, and learn from it”

I am a youth group leader in an evangelical church in a Southern state and I can absolutely attest to this.

In my youth group, there are roughly three different types of teens: those who have both parents active and involved in the church; those who have one parent (always the mom) involved with one parent indifferent/apathetic (always the dad); and those who come on their own and have no parents involved.

The first and third groups are some of the finest young people I have ever met. They are committed to living out Christian principles, they love the Lord with all of their heart and they engage in outreach — several of those students have started bible study clubs in their public schools. They give me a sliver of hope for revival in this generation. The first group sees their parents living out an authentic faith and emulates it. The third group has grown up in broken homes with broken lives (their stories will absolutely crush you) and they cling to the life raft that authentic faith provides.

The second group — where one parent is going through the motions — are the most indifferent teens I have ever seen. There is nothing I can do to engage them on a spiritual level. They’ll play games with our group and eat our food, but they mentally check out as soon as any teaching begins.
Dad is telling them to “live as I say, not as I do” and it is working about as well as you would expect. For this group, church is something to be endured, a box to be checked and it has no impact on their lives or their thinking.

Give me the foster children who were abused by their parents. Give me the kids who know what it is like to have the electricity turned off because mom needed another quick fix. Give me the teens who have been sexually abused by family members. They know how depraved the world can be; the grace and love of Jesus Christ really is the balm of Gilead in their life. But every time a parent sends their kid to me just to relieve their guilt about not actually going to church themselves, I sigh and mentally groan. They’re just asking me to do a job they won’t do themselves and it never works out. Never.

Reader John Andre:

I grew up attending a mainline Protestant Church. Many of my close friends from High School were also members and some of them are still very, very active in the same church. But the church is struggling and has hemorrhaged members.

For a long time, the Evangelical churches saw mainline Protestant churches losing members and didn’t think this was going to happen to them. But now it is. Overall, they are also in trouble. The tide is turning against them too.

A family member is a successful pastor in one of the Evangelical (and missionary) Churches and he often compares his job to the people making buggy whips at the start of the automobile age. He knows that the numbers are going to slide and he is, sadly, resigned to it.

What I find curious is the experience he is having with his own five teenage and young adult children. None of them are enthusiastic about Christianity, even though they were raised – well raised as I have every reason to believe – in a home with two very devout parents. It’s not that they are angry, rebellious atheists or militant SJWs. Instead, they would rather play video games and their response to Christianity is more “meh.” In a word, they are indifferent. This is what I find particularly shocking.

Really strident atheism is one thing, but apathy and indifference is something very different. I feel that you, Rod, have very well-prepared arguments for atheists and SJWs (secular liberals), but not very much to say to the indifferent. If young people are really simply indifferent, how can you reach them? It seems ironic to think that this pastor has been all over the world bearing witness to Christ, on many trips to Africa and the Middle East, while his own children – all of who have accompanied him on missions – just greet Christ’s message with a shrug and go back to their typical secular pursuits. But this is the reality. He hopes they will return to Christ and the church at some point, but I can see he is honestly not very optimistic. He sees this as “generational” more than anything else.

More and more I wonder why the kind of faith we took for granted in High School seems so alien to so many people now. I honestly believe that many still in the church have lost it, and are substituting the means (attendance, participation in works, etc.) for the ends (salvation). We may not always detect it, but I am more and more convinced it is still there.