Studies conducted by the Barna Group and USA Today found that nearly 75% of Christian young people fall away from the faith and leave the church after high school.
One Australian author has explored why this is happening and how we can move from a shallow, fragile faith to one that is deep and enduring.
Melanie Saward has told 96five’s Jess Drummond, she was driven to write Deep Faith, Resilient Faith: Curing Shallow Christianity in response to the cultural shift that has happened in “the last fifteen-plus years”.
Melanie describes how it used to be a given that people would attend church, and that people would simply obey their pastors, but nowadays people want to be convinced as to why they should engage in faith practices such as reading the Bible or praying. She says there is a need for Christians to be genuine in why they believe or practice the faith.
Despite the best efforts of parents, teachers, and Christian leaders to instill faith in their children, research by the Barna Group and USA Today has shown that 75 per cent of young people abandon their faith once they leave high school. Melanie notes an “in-between” group of people who maintain a level of faith but walk away from the Church. She suggests this is due a cultural shift in young people’s convictions and values, with an emphasis on authenticity and an aversion to judgement, control, guilt, and shame.
“I think we as a Christian society have not always recognised that the way we deliver our motivations for doing things for God or living for God or with Him, have often used shame and guilt to motivate and [young people] are very quick to detect that. They realise it’s not the way they want to live. There is a real shift culturally, and some of it’s actually good.”
Melanie says one potential sign of a waning faith in a young person is distance.
“When your daughter or son doesn’t want to talk about faith things with you anymore or doesn’t want to engage in any kind of conversation, there’s a good chance they are in a process of questioning and they may not feel safe about sharing those questions with others… how they feel they are treated speaks volumes to them about how God handles it, about what God is like if I have questions about Him.”
Among the 25 per cent of young people who persisted in their faith, researchers found five commonalities. These were:
- Eating dinner with family five or seven nights a week
- Serving with their family in a ministry
- Having one spiritual experience in the home during the week
- Being entrusted with responsibility in ministry at an early age
- Having at least one faith-focused adult in their life, other than their parents
“If you step back and get to the crux of what all those things represent, it ultimately represents relationship,” Melanie says, highlighting the high relationship needs of young people who live in the social media age where relationships can be transactional and shallow.
Of the five points mentioned above, Melanie says the last one is particularly impactful.
“It requires discernment, but I would be trying to identify people in your life that would be a good fit in terms of investing in your kids. There are more people who are willing to do that with our kids than we realise. It’s not just that it’s the first thing you could do, but it’s probably the thing that will be the most effective in the long run.”
Melanie encourages parents who are mourning their children’s departure from the faith to stand strong, to try to understand the younger generation, and not to judge.
“God will be faithful, and God has been faithful from generation to generation… He loves this generation; He knows the good and the bad and He will be faithful to them.”
Deep Faith, Resilient Faith: Curing Shallow Christianity is available now.