Dr. Rodney Stark at Baylor University recently published a book entitled, "What Americans Really Believe." He includes a section in which he claims to show that for Christianity in general, there is no significant loss of young adults. This has caused a lot of discussion among pastors, youth workers and church administrators. Monte Sahlin, chairman of the board for Center for Creative Ministry, recently responded to a question about this from the interdenominational pastor's blog, Monday Morning Insight. We thought you might be interested in it:
The reality beyond the data and all the spin and debate is this:
1. Most American kids who grow up in church-going families drop out of the church during their young adults years. They may or may not see themselves as "leaving the church" and most do not see themselves as leaving Christianity, but the church does not do a good job of keeping in contact with them and going to them while they are in the years of college, starting careers, moving to new cities, etc.
2. During the Baby Boom generation and Gen X a significant number of these young adult dropouts came back to church when they started a family of their own. The net loss among Boomers (now in middle age) was probably no more than a third of those who grew up in Christian families. It appears that the net loss among Gen X may be larger, but it is too soon to have all the data in.
3. We don't know how many Millennials will come back to the church after their young adults years. The oldest turn 31 this year and most have not started families as yet. There are data in some studies (as well as other indicators) that the Millennial generation may be more positive about organized religion than their Boomer parents and Gen X. If that proves to be true, then the net loss (which will become knowable in 2035) could be only 25 or 20 percent.
4. There is always a generation to generation loss of believers, unless major loss of life (a war or epidemic) or major evangelism trends intervene. That is why it is essential that congregations reach out to those who were not raised in Christian homes, as well as seek to reconnect with inactive church attenders, or they will decline in numbers.
INNOVATIONewsletter - 12.19.2008