Over the past two days I’ve posted parts I and II of an interview Relevant Magazine did with David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, about his book UnChristian. This book is without a doubt one of the most eye opening books I’ve ever read. There’s one aspect of the research that I find particularly interesting. I mentioned in part I that young outsiders (16 to 29 year olds) perceive Christians as hypocritical. Before you explain that perception away, look at the quote in part II of this series. The thing that becomes obvious is that people who believe Christians are hypocrites…are right. We are hypocrites. The research reveals that adult Christians don’t live any differently than anyone else.
To put it mildly, this is troubling. It’s especially troubling to me since I work with a portion of the young outsiders demographic. Statistics also reveal that somewhere between 70-80% of teens across all denominations leave the church when they graduate from high school.
Here’s where all this is leading. If the majority of adult Christians don’t lead lives that are any different than the vast majority of Americans who aren’t Christians, and if the statistics are correct that suggest that the most influential people in a person’s faith development are their parents, should it come as any surprise that young adults are walking away from the church in droves?
As churches, we do a pretty good job of realizing the need to teach our children. We see the need for children’s ministry, middle school ministry, youth ministry, and college ministry. But, in so many churches there’s a vast wasteland from the time a person graduates from college to the time they die. We realize that our children need to be in community with other kids, that they need spiritual retreats to help in their spiritual development, and that they need mentors to help them navigate life. But, why do we realize our kids’ need for this, but neglect our own need for it? Do we really think that community, spiritual formation, and mentors are unique needs of kids?
I don’t want to oversimplify the answer to a sweeping cultural trend like the epidemic of faithfulness in young adults. There are probably lots of reasons for why we’re experiencing this kind of fall off. But in general, I believe the answer to the problem is adult ministry, discipleship, walking alongside people and teaching them to follow Jesus.
I was having a conversation a few days ago with a parent of a girl in my youth ministry and he said, “If our kids don’t see us living the kind of lives we’re encouraging them to live, they won’t buy it.” He gets it. Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof said it this way in Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, “It would fundamentally change the way we look at our lives if we really believed the greatest thing that could happen in the heart of a child would be what happened in the heart of a parent” (p. 158).
As a parent, if I want my child to be faithful, I should be faithful. If I want my child to submit her will to God in a trusting relationship with Him, then I should submit my own will and trust Him. As a church leader, I need to stand prepared to meet people where they are in life and help, encourage, and train them to be like Jesus. Our kids need teaching, training, and community. But, just as importantly, I need teaching, training, and community.
Here’s part III of the interview with David Kinnaman. I’m interested to hear what you think!