Headlines from First Thoughts

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Graduating into the Missing

Christians and especially churches have created the culture of the missing. We’re the ones that have caused many people to go missing. How? We have treated evangelism as strategy, labeled the nonChristians as the only sinners in the world, have turned funerals chances to threaten people out of hell, have outsourced healthcare and disease to someone else, and all the while overlooked the missing in need of relationship right before our eyes. When the paralytic needed additional assitance, we were too worried about whether it would cost too much. When an immoral woman came knocking on our door, we were too busy arguing about worship styles. When over 5,000 hungry people needed to be fed, we were too busy arguing about problems at church.

And when high schoolers, college students, and young adults cried out, we answered with programs, trips, and gymnasiums. But not relationships. This is especially true for our high school graduates. Everyone knows that most people who attend church as young people drop out of church after high school. We assume they'll eventually return, but unfortunately they're just going missing.

One of the most haunting books that I have recently discovered is Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The authors describe the world of former church attenders and non church attenders, primarily age 18-35.

We’ve always noticed that people leave church after high school. No surprise there, but this generation departs faster than we can imagine, and fewer return by age 35 than ever before in America. Roland Martinson, in a recent study of Lutheran demographics said, “75% percent of young men and women leave the church between ages 16-24, and 40% who leave return by age 35; 30% of those who return go to other denominations.” This is probably the same for Baptists.

Kinneman and Lyons report that 40% of people age 18-29 (about 24 million people) are outsiders to Christanity; that is, they are not Christians or are not attending a faith community of any sort. That’s the highest rate of any generation in America today. Compare that to Baby Boomers. About ¼ of all Boomers go to church (21 million people).

Kinnaman and Lyons are beginning to identify the reasons why. 9 out of every 10 people age 18-35 know someone who is a Christian in our country, and most have attended at least one church for several months at a time. The statistics suggest that 9 million young people have said they have had negative experiences at church with Christians or with Christians in general.

Young people who do become Christians, however, make the best evangelists. They’re so dialed into these bruising experiences that most of them try to organize their time in such a way to have friendships with nonbelievers so that they can explain their side of faith. They know how badly we’ve handled it, they want to have a chance to get in another perspective. (Kinneman and Lyons, p. 34)

On these weekends, where we watch graduates walk through newly-opened doors, we are also praying for new ears to understand the language of the missing.

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