Why are the young people abandoning the church, and God? What has become of faith and Christianity as a whole? These are the questions many in the religious world are asking but I wonder, are the questions valid? Are th youth of America abandoning God, or are they merely abandoning the formality of the church? Where once the church owned the library and most, if not all, access to information with the internet and schools and the endless stream of new and different points of view available is the new church really just a quest for knowledge?
The reality is that 70% of Americans identify as Christian. This number is a large majority of the population, but what about the 30% you must wonder? Are they godless heathens banging at the gates? Are they the soulless horde bent on the destruction of mankind and life as we know it? The real answer is no, they are not. But that makes this whole thing boring doesn’t it. I hate it when we find a good story and it turns out to be drama free.
Boring as it may be let us examine the actual truth of the matter as it does seem, from the perspective of the major religions, there is a grain of truth here. Oh that grain is not so dramatic as a war on Christians, but rather a turn away from the church for many young people. While many on the right throw around scary numbers like 94%, or even high 80’s, as the number of young people leaving the church, the actual facts seem to suggest different. A study was done  “of students who attended a Protestant church (mainline or evangelical) twice a month or more for at least one year in high school. Here’s what [was] found: About 70 percent of young adults ages 18 to 22 stopped attending church regularly for at least one year.” This would seem to suggest a 70% dropout rate, which is still quite a large number. But the same study found that, by study’s end, 2/3rds of this 70% had returned to church. so the actual dropout number is now down to a far more reasonable 23% and change.
So now, if we assume this 23% leave the church and never return are we then safe to assume they are off in a coven worshiping all manner of dark entities? Are they summoning succubi and immortal demons from the depths of Hades? Or have they simply moved on to a belief system of less formal surroundings and demands? Another important question would be why is it they have moved on?
As it turns out, and yes, another drama free answer is about to come our way, they did not turn to the dark side. Many just became either non–secular or chose churches of a less traditional nature. This means they have not stopped believing in God they have merely stopped believing in the church. If you do a casual search online for the reasons this is occurring you will see a group of interesting answers. The first part of why the answers are so very interesting is where the answers are coming from. I suppose it makes sense that the people writing about why the young people are leaving church would be the ones involved in and believing in the church. After all, they are the ones in need of a flock they suddenly find missing. But upon reading most of the conclusions they have drawn I can’t help but feel they are pretty delusional.
More than one place I visited listed the main reason for this exodus as some version of “the church has spent so much time becoming relevant that it has become irrelevant.” For those unfamiliar with the thought process of true believers I will try to explain. What they are trying to say is that the old ways are best and all these attempts by the church to modernize and move the church into this century have hurt the church with the young people. This is the perfect church answer. Indeed this is the perfect conservative answer, that attempts to relate to the young and bring them a message they can understand and integrate in their world of mass information are wrong. The real answer being that they need to drag the young people, kicking and screaming, to the old ways as these are the right ways, and the church doctrine will out. Oddly enough the conclusion they have drawn is so wrong it is right.
Don’t misunderstand, their conclusion is not right as in it is correct, it is right as in the answer points out the larger problem. The conclusion they have reached is exactly the same backward thinking garbage that is causing the original problem they refuse to grasp. The church is losing people not because they embrace the new but because they do not have a clue about the new, and what of it, or in it, they should embrace. They wish to embrace a celebrity that is a devout Christian in the hopes of enticing the young to see faith as cool, and accepted, but they miss the larger point. It isn’t cool the church lacks as it was never cool, nor will it ever be cool. It is also not embracing the new by taking someone new and saying “oh look, this celebrity likes the old ways.”
What the new the church must begin to embrace is the real world. The church has spent thousands of years demonizing aspects of society for reasons these young people do not understand or accept. They have access to technology and information in quantities never before imagined. You cannot tell a young person that science is bad when it is science that allows them access to this word of information. You cannot expect the young to relate to you when you demonize specific groups of humans like LGBT peoples, and people of other faiths, when these same young people have friend lists with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people of all makes and models as followers and friends. You cannot tell them the world is 6000 years old and that evolution is invalid or belief in climate change is of Satan. You cannot tell them birth control is evil and they have no right to make decisions regarding their own person. At the very least you cannot tell 23% of them these things as they no longer accept the church as the only viable source of information.
In the past the church controlled the library. The church controlled the information available to the average person. The church was often the sole voice in a family or a persons life. The church didn’t just supply answers for the flock, the church supplied the questions. If they said something was bad then it was likely bad, no one was going to venture out in the world and deal with such a person, place, or thing to discover the truth of the matter. There was no need, the church had supplied the truth. But today the truth is everywhere. It is very difficult to demonize a person, place, or thing, when one can experience it for themselves. It is very difficult to limit the questions in an environment where the free flow of information is its greatest asset.
There are still those that, out of fear, faith, and family, will go to the church for their questions and answers. Make no mistake that the facts and figures prove that out. Also be very aware that those numbers are falling. The church makes a greater mistake in thinking old enemies like science, and knowledge, are sent by demons. I admit, I was taught from a very young age to question everything by my then very Roman Catholic mother. This may have come to bite her as I left the church after 8th grade. I could give you a long list of reasons, some self serving, others of rampant hypocrisy. The important reasons, I suppose, are the ones that caused me to not only never return to the church, but caused me to despise the church. I see the church as about control and power. I see it use people and their faith as a means to an end I do not agree with. I see in the church all the evils man can summon within himself. I see the church as man made and man manipulated and in it I see no relationship with a God or anything of the divine. I see the church, not as a method for one to follow their belief in God but rather as someones method to follow someone else’s belief in God. I think if people are to have a true relationship with their God they need to separate that from the beliefs of others.
The real problem facing the church, in my opinion, would be that they have lost control over the truth. Where once the church could easily manipulate the people’s access to information, and knowledge. Where once the church could limit the questions knowing full well what answers were available to the flock, they now live in a very different place. The problem now is can the church live in an era where they must adapt to the new questions? Can the church survive when the answers must relate to available information in the real world? As I see it the answer is a qualified yes. The tightrope they walk now is that to keep the youth they must change the party line they used to keep the elderly. You can’t tell the young parishioner that LGBT people are acceptable after you have spent generations telling his parents they are not. This is the new world in which the church finds itself.
The church though will get through. As the older generation dies the old party lines can also. The church will never fully catch society in its current rush for social change and acceptance but it will be forced to try or lead a full blown revolution. Here is hoping wiser heads prevail and the church try to live up to a few of the tenets it pretends too.