Teenagers as fake Christians, almost Christians, and passionate Christians

CNN, of all places, has a helpful followup to our discussions of youth ministry, drawing on some recent books to describe the whole range of teenager belief.  If you are a parent of teenagers or a pastor, you will want to read the whole article:  via Author: More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians – CNN.com.  A sample:

If you’re the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning:

Your child is following a “mutant” form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.

Dean is a minister, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of “Almost Christian,” a new book that argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on this self-serving strain of Christianity.

She says this “imposter” faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

“If this is the God they’re seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust,” Dean says. “Churches don’t give them enough to be passionate about.”

And yet, the article also demonstrates the strong faith that many teenagers have:

Anne Havard, an Atlanta teenager, might be considered radical. She’s a teen whose faith appears to be on fire. . . .

Havard says her faith has been nurtured by what Dean, the “Almost Christian” author, would call a significant faith community.

In 2006, Havard lost her father to a rare form of cancer. Then she lost one of her best friends — a young woman in the prime of life — to cancer as well. Her church and her pastor stepped in, she says.

“They called when all the cards stopped,” she says.

When asked how her faith held up after losing her father and friend, Havard didn’t fumble for words like some of the teens in “Almost Christian.”

She says God spoke the most to her when she felt alone — as Jesus must have felt on the cross.

“When Jesus was on the cross crying out, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus was part of God,” she says. “Then God knows what it means to doubt.

“It’s OK to be in a storm, to be in a doubt,” she says, “because God was there, too.”

The decline of youth group

My first reponse:  Good.  The typical youth group has degenerated into lame touchy-feely, content-free, condescending, feel-good “activities.”  It is an encouraging sign when teenagers stop going to those.  Of course, the issue is bigger and more serious.  Teenagers are dropping out of church.  It may be that churches are contributing to that, via obviously shallow youth ministries.  But what should churches be doing?

Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.

“Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” says Barna president David Kinnaman.

“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ ” . . .

Chris Palmer, youth pastor at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester, Va., says its youth group enrollment slid from 125 teens in 2008 to 35 last winter.

He pulled participation back up to 70 this year by letting teens know “real church, centered on Jesus Christ, is hard work,” Palmer says. “This involves the Marine Corps of Christianity. Once we communicate that, we see kids say, ‘Hey, I want to be involved in something that’s a little radical and exciting.’ ”

Rainer agrees. He says teens today want Scripture, they “don’t want superficiality. We need to tell them that if you are part of church life, you are part of something bigger. The church needs you, too.”

via ‘Forget the pizza parties,’ Teens tell churches – USATODAY.com.

Here is a successful youth ministry that does just that, giving unwatered down Scripture, depth, and the whole Church:Higher Things.

Do you have other ideas for keeping young people in church? Does anyone else have any success stories?


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