A couple of days ago, I started talking about the fact that young people are leaving our churches in droves after they get out of high school. It's something that has bothered me for a while. It seems like a clear indication that we are not passing the faith on to the next generation. Some of those who leave do come back, but many do not.
So, what's going wrong?
Well, I think there's a clue found in the reasons that kids give for leaving church. (Again, I'm equating "faith" with "church" because that is so common in Christian circles. It's wrong, but common.) Some of the reasons, like they moved too far away from their church or left home to go to college, don't make sense, because they could easily find another church to attend. But 17% of the kids surveyed were honest: they said they were only going to church to please others. I believe that would be considerably higher, if more of the kids surveyed had been more reflective and honest.
And it's understandable. So much of Christianity is performance-based, and approval is given based on external behaviors. Thus, if a kid shows up every Sunday, signs an abstinence pledge, doesn't drink or party, and has a regular quiet time, he or she is considered a "Good Christian kid." The reality is that you can do all those things and more, and have a heart that's cold toward God.
And the parents are probably on the same performance hamster wheel. They are taught that good Christians do certain things (serve in church ministries, attend weekly meetings, tithe, read their Bible, etc.). To gain approval from others in the church, church leaders, and ultimately from God, they do all the things they think they should.
When kids graduate from high school, they move, they get full-time jobs, they go off to college. They still have a mindset that they need to perform to get approval. But now they are away from parents and church leaders, so they look for approval from new groups of people: co-workers, roommates, other students. So now they get that approval from those people, instead of from church activities.
The real problem, as I see it, is that we've become largely performance-based as believers. What God wants is not the proper behavior, but actual life-change. Life transformation will result in behavior change, but transformation is a lot more difficult, messier, and harder to quantify.
So how do we go from a church culture that is bent on producing right behavior, to one that is committed to seeing people changed from the inside out? I've got some thoughts on that, but it's getting late, so that will have to wait until another time.
And for all of you who made it through the whole post, here's some fine music as a reward...