Hi everyone (and especially to anyone who is GenZ!),
Barna released a new study about spiritual practices among GenZ in the U.S.
In that report, here’s one graphic I wanted to discuss:
The drop-off in “committed Christians” from teenagers to young adults is staggering - 1 in 2.
It seems to me that strategies of “keeping the kids in church” isn’t working. First, it suggests people want to leave the church, but we’ll find ways to keep them instead. Second, once teenagers gain more independence they are walking away from their faith.
From my perspective, it looks like adults may need to demonstrate that their own faith is not complacent but that they are actively preparing themselves to faithfully live for God in every area of life. The older generations have a responsibility to set an example worthy of imitation.
Second, we need to provide practical tools that equip teenagers with vibrant faith. We can’t state that as an expectation if we aren’t willing to engage relationally and enable a dynamic commitment to Jesus by providing specific resources.
As Barna states, “American Gen Z, of varying levels of commitment to Jesus, may be lacking instruction on how to follow Jesus and to find meaning in the words of Christ and in scripture. Additionally, in the absence of trusted guidance, nominal Christian teens may attempt to take on the task of discipleship as a solo endeavor.”
What are your observations? And again, if you’re part of GenZ… I’m listening!
If I look at the graph and imagine “my younger me,” at best, I was in the “marginal” category, and in my worsted days, “all others.”
Fast forward 50 years, and I can look back and see where the “younger me” was not so bright and just as flawed as all the problems he was sure he could avoid and, in most cases, fix. He had not had his heart broken; he had not experienced suddenly realizing that he had become his father and the buck stopped with him, or seen his children grow or experience grandchildren, or marveled at the love of a wife who was/is the heartbeat of his life, or experienced the death of his father the man whose counsel he still longs to hear or experience seeing his mother’s world shrinking slowly to one room and three meals and wonder why God has allowed herself to live these 91 years. He had not yet met all the people in his life that would become his role models and mentors.
Obviously, this is my lived experience thus far and does not answer the fundamental question of how we, as the Church prepare our young people for life, but maybe that is the point a lived life takes time. We all have two calendars in our life our “Out Look calendar,” that’s the one we control, and our “Look Out calendar,” which is the one that God fills in for us, and it trumps our “Outlook calendar.” It is this calendar that God uses to draw us to Him.
I’ve been meaning to respond to this post over the last several weeks! I agree with things that both of you are saying.
To @jimmy’s point (which is no doubt @carson’s as well), young adults in America – out from under the oversight of a household – are in a different place of relating to the world than teenagers would be, so the drop-off is not at all surprising. If they participated in something as teens as a part of family life (like church), it’s not surprising that when removed from that way of living and given more freedom to ‘create’ a life for themselves (or what have you), that they would drop participation in some things in order to participate in other things…try other things out. I don’t think we need to be alarmed by this, necessarily, but it is a challenge to us adults to have/cultivate a faith that is both engaged and engaging. Church, as we all know, can very easily become just another social club.
Interestingly, though, The Guardian picked up on other trends in church attendance across the board. Not surprisingly, they mention the divided political landscape as a reason for people (of all ages, but particularly the younger gens.) leaving. That is, people disagreeing on policy – what one should do or how one should practice our shared faith.
"…the younger generation just doesn’t feel like they’re being accepted in a church environment or some of their choices aren’t being accepted by those at church.” About a quarter of the young adults who dropped out of church said they disagreed with their church’s stance on political and social issues, McConnell said.
This is what I’ve watched from afar the last 3 years most experienced as I’ve returned to the American church – division over politics, both church policy and government policy. I don’t think this is a uniquely American experience, but American church-state relations make this divide uniquely American, with lots of buzzwords that get rise out of people. It’s been sad to watch multi-generational families that used to worship together no longer do so because of these things.
As for the younger gens viewing discipleship as a “solo endeavor”, it seems it’s been creeping this way generation after generation. It strikes me as hyper-individualistic, which, in many ways reflects the broader culture. But there’s a sense of isolation (and dread) that comes with “solo” things, which is why people supporting one another with faith wrestlings is crucial!
Since I’m part of Gen Z, I thought that maybe I could share some points. Just as @kathleen mentioned, many of the younger generation feel as if their choices and struggles they face are not being validates by the church.
This often includes many young people coming out as LGBTQ. Often in their ‘solo endaveour’ to discover themselves and gain independence, they feel as if they have become more rational and have left behind the ‘herd mentality’ that is their family and their church.
It doesn’t help that social media normalizes wordly worldview and demonizes Godly ones, leading the younger generation to believe that by stepping out of the church they are stepping into a world that progresses, instead of the old fashioned ways. Churches and organized religion in general don’t receive the best press afterall.
On top of providing materials on how to walk with God and by leading by example, it would be good for churches to equip the younger generation with the mental fortitude and critical thinking to help them manuveour through the many voices of this world. To not give in to wordly norms but to stand strong in both faith and reasoning. For this is will be good if the church is able to tackle the problems and ideologies the younger generatiom will face with love and respect, while preparing them for the backlash they will face outside the church.
Also to help them understand that Christianity is not just an organized religion but a personal relationship with God (not the church or their family) that will bring them through the troubles of life, in each and every one of their personal battles.
I love the way you put this, esp. in using the word “progress”. I am reminded of something that CS Lewis once said re. the notion of “progress”. It was something to the effect of, One needs to ask the question of the culture, Progressing towards what exactly?
Amen! However, this is also an interesting topic, because in order to teach critical thinking, one must have been taught how to critically think. This is a conversation that my mother and I have a lot. She laments that her (American) public education in high school (and college!) in the late 1960s-early 70s was completely devoid of content that teaches critical thinking. Similarly, I would agree that my American public education of the early-late 90s was also pretty devoid of critical thinking content. I could memorize facts for a test, but I struggled to build an argument. I have no data to go off of, but I often wonder how strong our collective critical thinking skills are in America? It seems to me to be pretty weak in certain areas, thus people respond defensively, out of fear, rather than openness to challenge.
@kiko, I’d be curious to know what your education was like in Singapore? (Did you grow up there??)
But I also like how used the phrase “voices of the world”. Again, being able to help the younger gens engage with those voices means to also be wrestling with those voices ourselves. We, the older gens, are to be consistently engaging and learning!
Hey Kathleen! It’s so interesting to hear about your familys educational background. It seems like we are pretty alike no matter the culture and timeline. Though I think that you’re an extremely amazing thinker who is able to various topics with enthusiasm and kindness🙏
I did grow up in Singapore and I honestly think that the educational system here devoids the people of creativity and critical thinking. Our schooling system is structured in a manner whereby major tests starting from elementary school determines your path forward. Students become robots good at taking tests and passing exams but lack knowledge and experince in most of the other areas, which is honestly really sad. We’re basically trained to memorize and regurgitate, leaving no space for independent critical thinking. Which is also why majority of the people who go into the arts/sports tend to go overseas as the country doesn’t provide adequate support.
Therefore for the most part, the people here tend to get knowledge and form their worldview based on outside influence rather than what they’re formally taught. I often find myself watching channels like Jubilee which supposedly encourages debate, speakers like Brett Cooper or Jorden Peterson that I realized how much influence the western worldview have on so many people, including me. Unconsciously, my worldview was shaped by what the current trends are or what pops up on my social media feed. (Especially regarding american politics)
With social media giving so many people the platform to promote different movements, I could see why the younger generation would walk away from their faith as it’s not being as heavily supported/ promoted worldwide, especially since that world is all they know and are exposed to.