In every generation, the church of Jesus Christ has confronted unique challenges associated with its particular moment in history. The infant church faced relentless persecution. The early church fathers defended the Incarnation against one heresy after another. Protestant Reformers put the Scriptures into the hands of common believers, and Christian abolitionists fought the evil of slavery on two continents. During the last century, revival crusades, Christian media empires, and culturally relevant churches emerged in an effort to evangelize an increasingly secular world.
Twenty-first century leaders face a new challenge. In short, we are losing many of our own kids to the world even while trying to win the unchurched to Christ.
You’ve probably heard the statistics. For more than a decade church leaders have been bombarded by one report after another suggesting that churched kids are rejecting Christian faith at an alarming rate. Some widely quoted reports lack statistical credibility; few include longitudinal studies of generational faith transference. We also lack historical data for comparison. So we’ve given up trying to pinpoint a precise statistic on churched kids leaving the faith. The collective data, however, strongly suggests that about half of those raised in church will leave behind active faith as adults. And the problem is not our churches but rather our homes.
According to a 2001 study conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, large numbers of American adults are disaffiliating from Christianity. U.S. polling data from the study indicated that of those who identify with a specific religion, only seventy-six-and-a-half percent identified themselves as Christians—a drop of nearly ten percent in one decade. This decline matches trends observed in Canada between 1981 and 2001. If it continues, Christianity will become a minority religion in the U.S. by the year 2042.
A recently released survey on American religious identification also revealed that the percentage of those who identify with no religion at all has doubled since 1990. This survey reinforces findings summarized in the 2008 book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The authors found that our culture’s increasingly negative perception of the Christian faith has been fueled by the fact that most Americans who consider themselves unbelievers are actually former church kids. As the book explains, “This leads to the sobering finding that the vast majority of outsiders in this country, particularly among young generations, are actually de-churched individuals.”
How should we approach the increase of the “de-churched” in our culture? Watch this video:
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