Monday, August 30

More Teens Becoming "Fake Christians"

Ever since I have been involved in ministry to college students - and I'm starting my 29th year - the conventional "wisdom" has stated that "85% of young people will lose their faith when they go away to college."

I'm not sure about the statistical validity of that comment, but you can't get past the fact that a majority of students drop out of active Christian involvement when they get to college. The University of Arkansas is typical of this. We sit in the "buckle of the Bible belt" and I have no doubt that at least 80-85% of our 21,000 students attended church during their high school years. But once they get to college, it would be safe to say that no more than 25% of them continue to be active in their faith.

The easiest scapegoat for this is, of course, the university environment itself. It is true that there are a lot of landmines to faith on a university of campus. But most of us who work in campus ministry know that much of the problem is present before students ever hit campus. They arrive without a vital faith in Christ or a commitment to living out their faith.

A recent article on expands on this concept. John Blake quotes Kenda Creasy Dean, author of the new book "Almost Christian". She did considerable research on the Christian faith of teenagers. Some of her observations include:

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.... "If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation," wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can't talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

So what can be done? Dean shares this interesting observation:

No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.

We, as parents and church leaders, need to do a better job of helping our teens verbalize their faith and the ways that God has influenced their lives. We need to help them build relationships within our churches. We can't let attendance at "events" take the place of face-to-face and life-on-life relationships that are built on a common commitment to Christ. And we need to continually paint for them a picture of how their lives can be eternally significant - no matter what direction they choose to go. Unfortunately there is still an attitude in many churches that the "committed" kids will attend Christian colleges. They are celebrated while those choosing other routes are often ignored.

Elizabeth Corrie, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, adds some advice of her own.

Churches, not just parents, share some of the blame for teens' religious apathy as well, says Corrie, the Emory professor. She says pastors often preach a safe message that can bring in the largest number of congregants. The result: more people and yawning in the pews.

And what can parents do? Kenda Dean adds these thoughts:

Get "radical," Dean says. She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips. A parent's radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says. But it's not enough to be radical -- parents must explain "this is how Christians live," she says. "If you don't say you're doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people," Dean says. "It doesn't register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots."

I know that part of my own spiritual development was watching the growing faith and changing lives of my parents - especially during my teen years. The reality of their faith and their commitment to serve was noticeable and helped to solidify my own faith.

So churches, ministers, and youth ministers, it is time to call teens to deeper community, a greater vision, and a more personal relationship with Christ. They need to be called to a faith that demands something of them and isn't just a weekly ritual.

And parents, model for your sons and daughters a faith that affects how you live and that demands something of you. If your faith is challenging and stretching you, there is a better chance that it will take root in the lives of your children.

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