The Barna Group recently posted some research related to our ongoing questions about what is happening with younger generations at the church. One of our priorities at Eastbrook Church is to empower the next generation to follow Christ over the long-haul. I thought Barna’s research was thought-provoking, particularly as they address common (mis)understandings by folks within the church about what is going on. You can read the entire article here, but I have excerpted some highlights for review below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
The Barna Group team spent much of the last five years exploring the lives of young people who drop out of church. The research provides many insights into the spiritual journeys of teens and young adults. The findings are revealed extensively in a new book called, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith.
The research uncovered five myths and realities about today’s young dropouts.
Myth 1: Most people lose their faith when they leave high school.
Reality: There has been considerable attention paid to the so-called loss of faith that happens between high school and early adulthood. Some have estimated this dropout in alarming terms, estimating that a large majority of young Christians will lose their faith. The reality is more nuanced. In general, there are three distinct patterns of loss: prodigals, nomads, and exiles.
Myth 2: Dropping out of church is just a natural part of young adults’ maturation.
Reality: First, this line of reasoning ignores that tens of millions of young Christians never lose their faith or drop out of church. Thus, leaving church or losing faith should not be a foregone conclusion.
Second, leaving church has not always been normative. Evidence exists that during the first half of the 1900s, young adults were not less churched than were older adults. In fact, Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s.
Myth 3: College experiences are the key factor that cause people to drop out.
Reality: College certainly plays a role in young Christians’ spiritual journeys, but it is not necessarily the ‘faith killer’ many assume. …
“The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group.”
Myth 4: This generation of young Christians is increasingly “biblically illiterate.”
Reality: The study examined beliefs across the firm’s 28-year history, looking for generational gaps in spiritual beliefs and knowledge. When comparing the faith of young practicing faith Christians (ages 18 to 29) to those of older practicing Christians (ages 30-plus), surprisingly few differences emerged between what the two groups believe.
Myth 5: Young people will come back to church like they always do.
Reality: Some faith leaders minimize the church dropout problem by assuming that young adults will come back to the church when they get older, especially when they have children. However, previous research conducted by Barna Group raises doubts about this conclusion.
Furthermore, the social changes since 1960 make this generation much less likely to follow the conventional path to having children: Mosaics (often called Millennials or Gen Y) are getting married roughly six years later than did the Boomers; they are having their first child much later in life; and they are eight times more likely than were the youth of the 1960s to come from homes where their own biological parents were never married.