A 2007 Barna poll found that young Americans (ages 16 to 29) are growing increasingly critical about Christianity and the church and are leaving the church entirely. According to Barna’s research, “Despite strong levels of spiritual activity during the teen years, most twentysomethings disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during their young adult years—and often beyond that. In total, six out of 10 twentysomethings were involved in a church during their teen years but have failed to translate that into active spirituality during their early adulthood.”
But a new book by Rodney Stark of Baylor University takes issue with that finding. In What Americans Really Believe, Stark says that there really hasn’t been a big shift in young people leaving the church at all. In fact, Stark says, “It merely shows that when young people leave home, some of them tend to sleep in on Sunday morning rather than go to church. That they haven’t defected is obvious from the fact that a bit later in life when they have married, and especially after children arrive, they become more regular attenders. This happens in every generation.”
So… who to believe? Are we losing our young people from the church forever or just temporarily until they settle down, get married, and have families?
From a practical ministry standpoint, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change at all what we are called to do: reach people.
Let’s face it— most of the research coming out about the church is not pretty. Churches closing. Attendance down. People believing things we don’t teach. It’s all very depressing. My word to you today is this: It is Christ’s church, and he’ll take care of it. He loves the young person who’s sleeping in just as much as he loves the dear old saint who hasn’t missed a Sunday in years. And he’s entrusted us to reach them all and speak into their lives. To be honest, that’s harder to do when you hear research study after research study telling us how desperately we’re failing.
In the end it really doesn’t matters whose statistics we believe. What matters is that we’re proven faithful. In other words… don’t let the statistics get you down!