According to my previous post, my developing conviction about young adults and the church is that the church is not presenting youth with a compelling vision for the Christian life. In other words, the church isn’t failing because a lack of any discrete “young adult ministry,” its failure is more systemic than anything else. Leaving the issues of God’s sovereignty and the voluntary nature of everyone’s journey for the time being (salient issues as they are), I’d like to dip my toes into some of these systemic failures and see where it goes (please note this exercise is exploratory at this point, testing theories and hypotheses and seeing where we land). I can’t address them all in one post so I’ll just address them generally here, with a few helpful resources that can help you begin to think it through yourself.
Failure #1: Grace in practice – grace/love/forgiveness of sins (you know, the stuff Christian’s are supposed to believe in) remain for most young adults as an empty set of propositions. Christianity tends to be moralistic in their experience, and young people have not had any significant, regular experience of being loved in their sin. For most, they experience being either condemned, frightened, or ashamed by other Christians around them and so grace/forgiveness are very vague and unapproachable concepts rather than concrete lived experience.
Failure #2: Community – young adults have tended to grow up in an evangelical setting which has fostered community around “affinity groups” and/or “generational groups.” Thus young adults are suspicious of older generations and cut off from care and responsibility for younger generations. My proposition here would be “connection provides protection.” If a young adult, or a whole generation of young adults is connected to the broader church community; that is has meaningful, personal connections to other Christians beyond the youth group, I doubt that the inclination to abandon the church would be nearly as intense.
Failure #3: Mission – Christianity comes to feel very pedestrian and safe for most young adults. This is both good and bad; parents want to raise their children in a safe environment and so most young adults experience of the Christian life, unintentionally, is very homogenous and predictable. They don’t see the graphic nature of Jesus’ life and ministry lived out in the home or in the congregation. Service is reduced to “projects” and mission to “trips” instead of habituated cultural forms which shape the life of the church.
There may be other issues, if you have any thoughts please do share, but that’s what comes to mind at this point.
Here’s some good resources to check out:
Christian Smith’s books reporting on the findings of the the National Survey on Youth and Religion
The White Horse Inn’s interview (see their listed resources too) with Thomas Bergler author of The Juvenilization of the Church
John Dickerson’s article in the NY Times on the decline of evangelicalism (please note I am not convinced about the political significance of his article, but more in the thrust of a dying movement due to its loss of a younger generation).
Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Almost Christian, very good.
Well, that’s a good start, let me know your experience.