Friday, October 14, 2011

The Barna Group Reports on: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

The Barna Group, which describes itself as a “private, non-partisan, for-profit organization” has done a survey on 1296 current and former church-goers between the ages of 18 and 29 and has identified six primary reasons why young people leave church. They are:
  • churches seem overprotective
  • Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  • Churches come across as antagonistic to science
  • Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental
  • They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity and
  • The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt
Regarding the fourth item, the one that (obviously) caught my attention, they write:
Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, authors of the book Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It, have a different take on things. Writes one reviewer of the book:
Their research concludes that “Sunday school syndrome” is contributing to the epidemic rather than helping alleviate it. Sunday School tends to focus on inspiration and morality of Bible stories, rather than how to defend the authority of the Bible. The “Bible stories” told in Sunday school are separated from “hard facts.” As a result, children will turn to school books for facts and answers, instead of the Bible. Already Gone argues that if a child is unable to defend the historicity and fact of Genesis, then he or she will quickly be disillusioned with the church. “Ultimately, if we are unable to defend Genesis, we have allowed the enemy to attack our Christian faith and undermine the very first book of the Bible,” the book says.
I have always marveled at the fact that so much emphasis is placed on this one book of the Bible at the expense of the rest of it (including the Gospel). Ham, himself writes:
The research also showed that those young people (the two thirds group) who went to Sunday school were—surprisingly—more likely to have heard a Christian leader (pastor, Sunday school teacher, and so on) tell them they could believe in evolution and millions of years. We also found those in this group that they were more spiritually worse off than those who didn’t go to Sunday school and were more inclined to accept abortion and “gay” marriage.
I have not read this book (not sure if I could, actually) so I do not know what other questions were asked. It seems to me that a comparison between those that went to Sunday school and were exposed to “evolutionary” teaching and those that went to Sunday school and were not would be in order. I bet they would not be statistically significantly different. The message of the Barna Group, on the other hand, is that when students get to college, they find that the scientific leanings of their churches and perhaps parachurch organizations ill-prepared them for school and scientific disciplines.

In contrast to Ken Ham, Richard Colling writes:
Twenty-first-century college students are a savvy and discerning lot: They can smell a fraud a mile away. My experience is that they do not want to be “protected” from the realities of the world. They genuinely appreciate Christian educators who respect and care enough about them to speak the transparent truth regarding controversial subjects like evolution. In short, they want and deserve the real stuff including everything that modern biology and genetics can teach them about evolution and origins. Then, armed with actual factual knowledge and understanding, they can intelligently make up their own minds how to put it all together, and just as importantly, defend their faith in a secular unbelieving culture. My experience is that they accomplish things very well – resulting in a stronger more resilient personal faith.
I think that too many of them are smelling the fraud of “creation science.”

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1 comment:

  1. Ham's findings about spiritual well-being and evolution are probably driven by two artifacts:

    1. Liberal Churches are more likely to have accepted evolution than conservative ones. Hence a (non-causal) correlation between acceptance of evolution and, say, gay marriage.

    2. Ham defines spiritual well-being as theological conservatism.