A very good article in Christianity Today. You can find it here.
The article discusses why young people are leaving Christianity. Through his research, the author shows that people are leaving and they’re not coming back. Those in church have convinced themselves that young people will sow thier oats for a season, then return in their mid-20’s when they get married. The evidence proves this untrue……they generally stay gone. In fact, the article shows how most non-Christians are actually ex-Christians, people who were once inside the church but have left.
They are leaving for a variety of reasons, many of which are intellectual. Here is one example that the article provides:
I also met leavers who felt Christianity failed to measure up intellectually. Shane, a 27-year-old father of three, was swept away by the tide of New Atheist literature. He described growing up a “sheltered Lutheran” who was “into Jesus” and active in youth group. Now he spoke slowly and deliberately, as if testifying in court. “I’m an atheist and an empiricist. I don’t believe religion or psychics or astrology or anything supernatural.”
This view, of course, is a false dilemma. It assumes that faith is not based on empirical evidence. The church has for many years contributed to this problem, teaching that we should not think, not deal with the tough intellectual questions. The result is that people leave the church. When will we realize that our failure to deal with tough intellectual questions drives people away from Christianity? The problem above can be addressed with views such as that of Thomas Aquinas, who builds his reasoned faith on both empirical evidence and revealed truth, showing that both are compatible.
Other reasons given in the Christianity Today article include adopting alternative religions. Again, when will we educate ourselves on the alternative religions so that we can answer people’s questions? We are commanded in scripture to always be ready to give every man an answer, a reasoned defense for what we believe (1 Peter 3:15) and to vigorously contend for the faith (Jude 3). This involves using the mind that God gave us and educating ourselves about what we believe, and how it is different from what others believe. This is a command in scripture, not a suggestion.
The article goes on to try to pinpoint the sources for why most young people are leaving the church. It says “What pushed them out? Again, the reasons for departing in each case were unique, but I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith.” Do not miss the importance of this: the version of Christianity that is expoused in most church youth groups is “superficial” that actually prevents them from having authentic faith. What is this superficial Christianity? It is one that ignores real-world problems, does not deal in the realm of deep theology, and does not ask much in terms of behavior. “When this naive and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of any age walk away.”
But the most striking and widespread reason the article gives for why people are leaving is shown in this quote:
Another unsettling pattern emerged during my interviews. Almost to a person, the leavers with whom I spoke recalled that, before leaving the faith, they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts. Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking “insolent questions.” Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them. One was slapped across the face, literally.
At the 2008 American Sociological Association meeting, scholars from the University of Connecticut and Oregon State University reported that “the most frequently mentioned role of Christians in de-conversion was in amplifying existing doubt.” De-converts reported “sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers.”
Note that this says that “almost to a person” those who had questions were shut down, ignored, or given trite answers. Christians have been taught to not deal in complex matters, to ignore intellectual problems for so long, that we have forgotten how to deal with legitimate questions. We are driving people out of the church by not answering their questions.
If I could shout a message from the housetops or spray paint something across the back wall of every chruch building, it would be this: follow the biblical command to answer people’s questions. To not do so is sin, and it is driving people out of the church in droves.