6.07.2013

Youth Groups and the Young Atheists

The Atlantic has an insightful article on the young atheists.  Particularly insightful is the last paragraph, which says that the typically age when one decides to become an atheist is between 14 - 17.  This is also the age when huge changes are happening in every part of their lives: hormonally, psychologically, physically and socially.  It's curious then that the church (in my experience) has sought youth pastors who have little-to-no experience or education, and who can draw in a lot of youth with games and motivational (read: unsubstantial) speeches.  It turns out (rather obvious to me, I grew largely discontent with church youth groups) that this is actually not what youth are looking for in Christianity.  What they are looking for is a strong, unifying message/purpose that gives them answers to their hard questions and that is coherent.

In a time when unprecedented numbers of youth are leaving the church after high school, the church needs to get serious about youth, offering more than an underpaid part time youth pastor (who likely works full time, plus another job to make ends meet) and motivational speeches exhorting them to "be good".  After all, those things are not Christianity. 

Below is a quote from the article:



They had attended church 
Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity. 
The mission and message of their churches was vague 
These students heard plenty of messages encouraging "social justice," community involvement, and "being good," but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: "The connection between Jesus and a person's life was not clear." This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again. 
They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life's difficult questions 
When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: "I really started to get bored with church." 
They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously 
Following our 2010 debate in Billings, Montana, I asked Christopher Hitchens why he didn't try to savage me on stage the way he had so many others. His reply was immediate and emphatic: "Because you believe it." Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: "I really can't consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn't trying to convert me." As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well-publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: "I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.... How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?" Comments like these should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, "the way, the truth, and the life." 
Ages 14-17 were decisive 
One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

From The Atlantic