by Alan Anderson
The future of the church is necessarily dependent on the existence of tomorrow’s Christians. While the statistics may somewhat vary from source to source, anywhere from 59% – 70% of the youth who regularly attended church dropout after they graduate and it is estimated that the return rate on these dropouts could possibly be as high as two thirds (best case scenario) at some later time in their lives. The reality of the matter is that the percentage of dropouts returning to the church is not complete; meaning, some dropouts are leaving for good. The logical conclusion for this decline can only mean a long-term secularization of the United States. While it may not fully affect present-day Christians, Christians of future generations will live in a world where this will become a major problem in how they view the world and how the world views them.
Barna highlights six reasons for this drastic drop in church attendance among the youth after their graduation. The reasons that are cited are that 1) the church seems overprotective (i.e. demonizing the outside world, ignoring real world problems, etc…), 2) their experience of Christianity is shallow (i.e. church is boring, faith is irrelevant to their interests, Bible is taught unclearly, God is missing from their experience, etc…), 3) the church is antagonistic towards science (i.e. Christians think they have all the answers, out of touch with the scientific world, Christianity is anti-scientific, turned off by the evolution versus creation debate, etc…), 4) church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental concerning matters of sexuality (i.e. feel they are being judged for mistakes, teachings on sexuality are archaic, etc…), 5) exclusivity of Christianity (church is afraid of other beliefs, forced to choose between friends
and church, church is only for insiders, etc…), and 6) church is unfriendly to doubters and skeptics (i.e. not feeling comfortable to express intellectual doubts about faith to the church).
As a high school youth leader at a local church, I sense these feelings from their behavior. These are good kids and my church is a good church but sometimes it feels like there is a huge disconnect between the kids and the church. There are many other influences in their lives other than the church. As youth leaders, we are in competition with parental, academic, peer, and media influences. Sometimes it feels like an insurmountable uphill battle. Of the 168 hours of the week, they are probably awake 112 of those hours. Of those 112 hours that they’re awake and susceptible to influence, we have around two hours (less than 2%) to make a meaningful and lasting impact on their lives. Given the facts that I provided you, do our chances as youth leaders and pastors look promising? Not necessarily, especially if many of them are leaving at a rate of 59% – 70% after they graduate.
Apologetics can be an excellent tool for building a solid and confident Christian worldview for all Christians of all ages. The practice of apologetics emphasizes the importance of clear, concise, and open communication along with enhancing the effectiveness of the methodology we use to gain a better understanding of God’s Word and creation. These characteristics of apologetics would significantly resolve many of the objections posed by the modern day young Christian dropping out of the church. Let’s take a look at how the practice of apologetics can address each of the six reasons listed above…
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