Southern Baptist Convention Data Pinkney, T.C., Remarks to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Nashville, Tennessee (2001)
Study Findings: Data from the Southern Baptist Convention indicates that they are currently losing 70-88% of their youth after their freshman year in college. 70% of teenagers involved in church youth groups stop attending church within two years of their high school graduation
If this statement does not grab your attention then you are either not a geniune Evangelical or you are an abject hedonist who has an eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we perish worldview. I would submit things have gotten progressively worse since Brother Pinkney submitted his report to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001. Since 2001 we have seen the legalization of same-sex marriage along with a radical embrace of the liberal sexual revolution, not to mention a continued general embrace of a radical and wholesale rebellion from the sovereign rule of a God our creator.
Some of these issues arise from without and while this is lamentable we are resigned to the reality this is just to be the case. We live in a world alien and increasingly hostile to God. What is extremely alarming and troubling are the self-inflicted wounds the Evangelical community has unwittingly hoisted upon itself time and time again. We should be on guard and diligent as we interact and engage with the culture but we are the victims of friendly fire. When Christ admonishes the Church to put on the whole armor of God we anticipate attacks arising NOT from within our own wire, to borrow a military metaphor.
Yet this is the reality of our present lot in life but it begs the obvious question: how did we arrive at this dis-junction. This blog article will only attempt to delve with the attacks from within. As God reminds us in His Holy Word He will deal with the outside (1 Corinthians 5:9-13), the Evangelical Church only has jurisdiction and oversight over the within.
I believe there are two principal reason we are witnessing such an exodus of young people leaving the faith within two years after graduation from high school. (Editor’s note: The White Horse Inn ministry reports they have seen the number as high as 90%). It is important to note theologically if these young people depart and the departure is final and full (meaning they do not return to the faith before they die) this would mean they were never truly of the faith in the first place, not that they were saved at one point and subsequently lost their faith. This is clear from the testimony of Holy Scriptures (1 John 2:19).
Yet, it should still alarm us that 70% of any demographic supposedly once believed or at least connected to the visual church in some fashion but no longer pledge fidelity to faith. Many of these people would surely come from good Christian homes. So, the obvious question would be, “why faith is not sticking with these young people?”
As I said, I believe there are two primary reasons: 1) parents have abdicated their responsibility as the first line of defense and 2) youth ministries have swallowed whole the worldview that pedagogy (teaching) must rely on emotions (reaching the heart) and meeting felt needs.
Fallacy #1: The secular educational system has primary responsibility for ensuring children learn secular data and conversely the Church (youth ministry) has primary responsibility for ensuring Christian children learn spiritual data.
It is told to parents to train up the child when he is young, not the church (Proverbs 22:6). It is to fathers (specifically) and mothers (by implication) to not provoke their child to wrath (Ephesians 6:4). The commandment with promise is to honor thy mother and father (Ephesians 6:1). It should be clear that God’s design for The Faith to be passed on to each new generation is through the family, first and foremost. Other entities are included, to be sure, but they must take a secondary role, never primary.
Israel was instructed to pass “their faith” on to the next generation by intentional and systematic immersion. Parents, not priests or prophets or the community at large, were instructed, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8).
To our utter shame, the Evangelical Church has allowed the culture to “repackage” our pedagogical (teaching) worldview. The child no longer is expected to receive the majority of their spiritual formation from the home. The home has been replaced by the Youth Ministry. I have no ax to grind against Youth Ministries or Youth Ministers. My issue is the Youth Ministry have been vested with authority that is proportionally out of whack and in the final analysis: ineffective.
Fallacy #2: For education to be effective it must delivered via means where addressing and meeting emotional needs are firemost. Additionally, the proper locus of the attention must be directed toward the heart, not the head. In summary, The Evangelical Church has naively embraced a secular, man-centered worldview toward Evangelical Youth Ministry.
This approach towards Youth Ministry was doomed to fail from the very start because it is attempting to do what the Church was NEVER decreed to do in the first place (serve as the primary means) and most importantly it places the emphasis on the wrong target area: the heart. Most, not all, Youth Ministries are centered on emotions and felt needs. It is basically devoid of substantial content, it disdains doctrine because the Evangelical church, by and large, believe youths are turned off by doctrine. (They actually believe everyone is turned off by doctrine. We live in a very anti-intellectual age).
We seemingly believe if we “entertain” the youth we can hold their attention and devotion to God but when you really begin to analyze the issue you will soon realize the Church cannot compete with the Beyonces and the Jay-Zs (or fill-in whatever name you want). Youth ministry, by and large, is nothing more than a social gathering for young people. Yet, we are quickly finding out when we send little Johnny or Jill off to university they are not prepared for the agnostic, hostile Philosophy Professor who quickly debunks their faith in Christ. Our youth are not prepared to give a sober answer for the hope they purport to have in Christ. Why? Because youth ministry is focused on their felt needs and providing surface level questions to some of the tough issues of life.
Additionally, we believe if we would just give the Youth what they wanted this would translate into discipleship. If I asked a six-year what they wanted to eat for dinner I believe the next time they ask for vegetable would be the first time. Of course, if you ask a teenager what they wanted youth ministry to consist of it would weigh heavily toward high-tempo music, fun activities and of course, food. Oddly, we have let the inmates run the asylum and believed this was a wise course of action.
We will continue to witness a slide in the wrong direction unless the Evangelical Church makes a radical turn back to the principles laid out in Holy Scripture. I love how Dr. R.C. Sproul spoke on the subject, he said, “If we just have it on our mind and don’t have it in our hearts, then we don’t have it. But you can’t have it in your heart unless you first have it in your mind.”
I believe we are failing on both fronts. 1) Parents are not diligently training their children up in the fear and admonition of God in secular and spiritual education. 2)The Evangelical church has ceded the emphasis on doctrinal for relationship, felt needs and entertainment. It is no small wonder so many of our young people depart the Faith soon after leaving the home.
I was no perfect parent. My parents were not perfect parents either. Yet, I am convinced if my three children turn out not to be genuine believers it will be in spite of and not because of my parenting. I know, of course, that salvation is ultimately the sovereign elect choice of God but I also know God works through means to bring salvation to pass.
I carry no water against Youth Ministries or Youth ministers. I do not advocate throwing the baby and the bath water out, only the bath water. Let me know if you agree with my two thesis points.
Until next time keep your hands to the plow and always seek to serve for an Audience of One.