I finished reading Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, ‘Almost Christian,’ the other day … and wow. The book is an absolute must read for parents, youth workers, church leaders in general. It is astounding. Basically, it’s based on the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a study in which they spent years interviewing thousands of teens, their parents, their youth workers, churches, going back for follow up interviews and checkins, going back some more, and so on. Basically, what they ended up with was a time lapse picture of young people’s faith development and found some startling results. It was a massive study. There were five key findings in the study:
- Most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise don’t give it much thought
- Most U.S. teenagers mirror their parents’ religious faith
- Teenagers lack a theological language with which to express their faith or interpret their experience of the world
- A minority of American teenagers – but a significant minority – say religious faith is important, and that it makes a difference in their lives. These teenagers are doing better in life on a number of scales, compared to their less religious peers
- Many teenagers enact and espouse a religious outlook that is distinct from traditional teachings of most world religious – an outlook called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
For me, there was a lot of key information in the pages of the book. I found particularly interesting the common elements found in the small minority of young people with strong, committed faith. They were:
- Attends religious services weekly or more
- Currently involved in a religious youth group
- Prays a few times a week or more
- Reads scripture once or twice a week or more
Those first two are why for years I’ve told parents they need to make their child attending a worship service a priority! I firmly believe we make a huge investment in a child’s future faith when we bring them to a worship service (the vast majority of college age students that do plug in to churches have one thing in common – they attended their home church’s worship service as a teen). And we make a huge investment in a teen’s current faith when we prioritize youth group with age specific topics and needs. It’s a powerful combo. And there’s no replacement for actual regular presence – just being at the church building is not enough. Service in other areas should be in addition to those core components!
I actually ended up highlighting quotes throughout the book – something I never do. There was just so much and I wanted to make sure I remembered it all. Here are just a few that jumped out at me right away:
“Since the religious and spiritual choices of American teenagers echo, with astonishing clarity, the religious and spiritual choices of the adults who love them, lackadaisical faith is not young people’s issue, but ours.” One of the key findings of the study was that for the most part, young people’s faith reflected their parents faith. Which does then beg the question, if we see them being ambivalent, what does that tell us about the rest of the church?
“We have successfully convinced teenagers that religious participation is important for moral formation and for making nice people, which may explain why American adolescents harbor no ill will toward religion.”
“We have not invested in their accounts: we ‘teach’ young people baseball, but we ‘expose’ them to faith. We provide coaching and opportunities for youth to develop and improve their pitches and their SAT scores, but we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging ‘when youth are ready’ (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra).” I love that last bit about algebra.
“We have received from teenagers exactly what we have asked them for: assent, not conviction; compliance, not faith. Young people invest in religion precisely what they think it is worth – and if they think the church is worthy of benign whatever-ism and no more, then the indictment falls not on them, but on us.”
“Do we practice the kind of faith that we want our children to have?”