In his article, “UPDATED: Are Young People Really Leaving Christianity?” Christian Case Maker and former Homicide Detective, J. Warner Wallace, lists 47 resources that support the thesis that there is a crisis in American Christianity. In his treatment, you can see him using the same painstaking methodology he used as a Cold-Case Detective; acquiring tons of evidence so that at trial a suspect would be convicted by a death of a thousand cuts.
He breaks down his data in five major topics:
- Research Related to the Spiritual Life of Teenagers
- Research Related to the Attitude of College Professors
- Research Related to the Decreasing Christian Population in General
- Research Related to the Flight of Young People from the Church (where he spends most of his time.)
- Research Related to Potential Responses to the Flight of Young People from the Church.
Some of his data included these facts:
- 75% of all Christian High School students will walk away from their faith in their first semester of College. Only 35% eventually return.
- 90% of youth active in high school church programs drop out of church by the time they are sophomores in college.
- The proportion of young adults identifying with mainline churches, is “about half the size it was a generation ago.
- If current trends in the belief systems and practices of the younger generation continue, in ten years, church attendance will be half the size it is today.
- Church youth already are “lost” in their hearts and minds in elementary, middle and high school – not in college as many assume.
When analyzing the reasons why, “About 50% youth say a “lack of belief” led them to move away from religion. This includes many… who mentioned ‘science’ as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings. This includes one who said ‘I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.’” In fact, one student put it this way, “I realized that religion is in complete contradiction with the rational and scientific world, and to continue to subscribe to a religion would be hypocritical.” Left unchecked, the Faith-Exodus will undermine Christianity for years to come.
There are many reasons young people walk away from The LORD. But it appears the church has done a very poor job of helping young people understand the inconsistencies and contradictions of atheism – and the reality of Christ and Christianity. It appears we have done a poor job truly connecting youth to the living Christ.
Jonathan Morrow, author of “Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey.” says, “When a [Christian] student moves from one group where their beliefs were the majority view to a new group where they are now in the minority… they face significant pressure to modify or reject their ‘outdated’ beliefs. When they have left the bubble, will they stand? That is why we must train our students to know why they believe what they believe. It’s not a matter of if, but when the challenges will come.”
It also important to note that atheism has become more evangelistic. The “New Atheists” now want converts. The spiritual battle, while never easy, has only intensified. But sadly, without solid apologetics training, many young Christians enter the battlefield of the world unarmed. And we always need to remember that Christians and Christianity have been stereotyped as “evil, backward, intolerant, and irrational.” When you add these stereotypes with what appears to be an irrational faith, you can see why something must be done.
What’s tragic about this is Christians have reality on our side. The question is who is right, atheists or Jesus? Who does the best job in describing reality as it really is? We know that Jesus’ definition of reality is the true one. Other worldviews, get it wrong. They describe a reality that distorts the human condition and our own experiences. So, we need to a better job helping Jr. High, High School, and College students understand why their faith is rational and true.
First, we need to defend our faith when out in the world of public opinion – but to do so from an apologetics perspective. For example, our culture rejects the historicity of Jesus. We must first show that it is a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose from the dead. Also, most people reject the authority of Scripture. We need to show why the Bible is the word of GOD, using reason, logic, and evidence. We also need to help Christian students learn the inconsistencies of atheism and naturalism, in order to become sure of their faith and persuasive defenders of Christianity.
But there is good news too! There has been a huge increase in Youth Apologetics ministries! (Like this website.) Young Believers are learning the truth about reality and becoming convinced that not only does God exist, but He cannot not exist! They are being greatly encouraged and motivated to defend Christianity and Biblical truth.
J Warner Wallace ends his article by saying, “Can a case be made that young Christians are leaving the Church in record numbers? Yes. Can a case be made that many of these young people are leaving because the culture around them has impacted them deeply and caused them to question the truth claims of Christianity? Yes, again. So, what are we going to do about it? What can be done?”
Let me remind you that I have been a Christian for over 30 years, and was a Pastor for 25 of those years – including both College and Singles Pastors. I left pastoral ministry to focus on Christian Youth Apologetics because I saw the great need developing in the church. I ask you to take note of that to help you understand that I have a good understanding of the existing Youth Crisis. Here, in my opinion, is what is necessary:
- Every church needs to understand this crisis, and how Christian Apologetics can help.
- While there are growing resources for the church: Youth Apologetics Curriculum, Apologetic Camps and Conferences, and while each of these need to be leveraged – every church needs an Evangelist/Apologist on staff. This could even be the Senior Pastor. But Christian Apologetics needs to be more “mainstreamed” into the church.
- Every Youth Pastor needs to be trained in Christian Apologetics, and have a heart for it.
- Parents need to understand their role in helping their children get a basic understanding of the evidence for God, Jesus, the Resurrection, and Christianity as a whole. Resources like this website (ApologeticsDojo.org) are a great tool for that.
I believe if the church does a better job proactively equipping its children with powerful Christian Apologetics, we can turn the tide and stop the Youth Exodus from the church. Now is the time to act.